What South African can learn from Germany about restitution


Institute for Historical Review

West Germany’s Holocaust payoff to Israel and world Jewry

Mark Weber

The passions and propaganda of wartime normally diminish with the
passage of time. A striking exception is the Holocaust campaign, which seems to
grow more pervasive and intense as the years go by. Certainly the most
lucrative expression of this seemingly endless campaign has been West Germany’s
massive and historically unparalleled reparations payoff to Israel and world
Jewry for the alleged collective sins of the German people during the Hitler
era. Since 1953, West Germany has paid out more than $35 billion in reparations
to the Zionist state and to millions of individual “victims of National

How did this remarkable program get started? How lucrative has it been?
What does it suggest about the “six million” figure? And what are its
social and political implications?

Bowing to pressure

In September 1945, shortly after the end of the Second World War, Jewish
leader Chaim Weizmann submitted a memorandum on behalf of the Zionist Jewish
Agency to the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain and
France “demanding” (in the words of the Encydopaedia Judaica)
“reparations, restitution and indemnification due to the Jewish people
from Germany” The western Allies lost no time in responding favorably to
Weizmann’s demands.See 1. The American government was
particularly eager to have the Germans pay up.See 2. As a result, the German government set
up by the western Allies at Bonn in 1949 never had any real choice but to
acknowledge the alleged collective guilt of the German people during the Hitler
era and pay what was demanded.

Indeed, a major provision of the treaty of May 1952 by which the United
States, Britain and France granted “sovereignty” to the Federal
Republic of (West) Germany obligated the new state to make restitution.See 3.

West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer
laid the emotional and psychological groundwork for the reparations program
when he solemnly declared to the Bundestag on September 27, 1951:

The Federal government and the great majority of the German people are
deeply aware of the immeasurable suffering endured by the Jews of Germany and
by the Jews of the occupied territories during the period of National Socialism
… In our name, unspeakable crimes have been committed and they demand
restitution, both moral and material, for the persons and properties of the
Jews who have been so seriously harmed …

Adenauer went on to promise speedy conclusion of restitution and
indemnity laws and announced that reparations negotiations would begin soon.
Accordingly, delegations representing the Bonn government, the State of Israel
and an ad hoc organization of Jewish groups began talks in the Netherlands in
March 1952.

The representative of the Jewish organizations was the “Conference
on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc.” or “Claims
Conference,” a body formed for the sole purpose of demanding maximum
reparations from the German people. The 20 member organizations represented
Jews in the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Argentina, Australia and
South Africa. Jews in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and the Arab countries
were not represented.See 4.

The West German government was under pressure to conclude quickly a
reparations agreement satisfactory to the Jews. In his memoirs, Chancellor
Adenauer wrote:

It was clear to me that, if the negotiations with the Jews failed, the
negotiations at the London Debt Conference [which were going on at the same
time] would also run aground, because Jewish banking circles would exert an
influence upon the course of the London Debt Conference which should not be
under-estimated. On the other hand it was self-evident that a failure of the
London Debt Conference would bring about a failure of the negotiations with the
Jews. If the German economy was to achieve a good credit standing and become
strong again, the London Conference would have to be ended successfully. Only
then would our economy develop in a way that would make the payments to Israel
and the Jewish organizations possible.See 5.

Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann, President of the World Jewish Congress
and chairman of the Claims Conference, warned of a worldwide campaign against
Germany if the Bonn officials did not meet the Zionist demands: “The
non-violent reaction of the whole world, supported by wide circles of non-Jews,
who have deep sympathy with the martyrdom of the Jewish people during the Nazi
period, would be irresistible and completely justified.”See 6. The London Jewish Observer was more
blunt: “The whole material weight of world Jewry will be mobilized for an
economic war against Germany, if Bonn’s offer of reparations remains
unsatisfactory.”See 7.

The talks culminated in the Luxembourg Agreement, which was signed on
September 10, 1952 by West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Israeli Foreign
Minister Moshe Sharett and World Jewish Congress President Nahum Goldmann.

A Legal Novelty

This agreement between the West German government, on the one hand, and
the Israeli state and the Claims Conference, on the other, was historically
unprecedented and had no basis or counterpart in international law. For one
thing, the State of Israel did not exist at the time of the actions for which
restitution was paid. Moreover, the Claims Conference had no legal authority to
negotiate and act on behalf of Jews who were citizens of sovereign countries.
Jews were represented in an internationally recognized treaty with a foreign
state not by the governments of the countries of which they were citizens, but
rather by a supranational and sectarian Jewish organization.

It was as if the Catholic citizens of the United States had allowed
themselves to be represented in a treaty with a foreign government not by the
U. S. government, but rather by some ad hoc supranational Catholic organization
or by the Vatican. The Luxembourg Agreement thus legally implied that Jews
everywhere, regardless of their citizenship, constitute a distinct and separate
national group and that world Jewry was a formal party to the Second World War.See 8.

Nahum Goldmann, a co-signer of the Agreement, was one of the most
important Jewish figures of this century. From 1951 to 1978, he was president
of the World Jewish Congress, and from 1956 to 1958, he was also president of
the World Zionist Organization. In his autobiography, the German-born Goldmann
recalled his role in the negotiations and the remarkable nature of the

My negotiations with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his
associates, which culminated in the Luxembourg Agreement of 1952, make up one
of the most exciting and successful chapters of my political career.

There hardly was a precedent for persuading a state to assume moral
responsibility and make large-scale compensation for crimes committed against
an unorganized ethnic group lacking sovereign status. There was no basis in
international law for the collective Jewish claims …See 9.

In a 1976 interview, Goldmann said that the agreement “constituted
an extraordinary innovation in the matter of international rights” and he
boasted that he had obtained 10 to 14 times more from the Bonn government than
he had originally expected.See 10.

The Payoff for Israel

The agreement meant economic security for the new Zionist state, as
Goldmann explained in his autobiography:

What the Luxembourg Agreement meant to Israel is for the historians of
the young state to determine. That the goods Israel received from Germany were
a decisive economic factor in its development is beyond doubt. I do not know
what economic dangers might have threatened Israel at critical moments if it had
not been for German supplies. Railways and telephones, dock installations and
irrigation plants, whole areas of industry and agriculture, would not be where
they are today without the reparations from Germany. And hundreds of thousands
of Jewish victims of Nazism have received considerable sums under the law of
restitution.See 11.

Goldman said in 1976:

Without the German reparations, the State of Israel would not have the
half of its present infrastructure: every train in Israel is German, the ships
are German, as well as the electricity, a large part of the industry …
without mentioning the individual pensions paid to the survivors … In certain
years, the amount of money received by Israel from Germany exceeds the total
amount of money collected from international Jewry-two or three times as much.See 12.

As a result of the West German reparations program, wrote Jewish
historian Walter Laqueur:

The ships laden with German capital goods began to call at Haifa
regularly and unfailingly, becoming an important — ultimately a decisive —
factor in the building up of the country. Today [1965] the Israeli fleet is almost
entirely “made in Germany,” as are its modern railway equipment, the
big steel foundry near Acre, and many other enterprises. During the 50’s and
early 60’s about one-third of investment goods imported into Israel came from
Germany … In addition to all this, many individual Israelis received
restitution privately.See 13.

It is difficult to exaggerate the impact of the program: the five power
plants built and installed by West Germany between 1953 and 1956 quadrupled
Israel’s electric-power-generating capacity. West Germans laid 280 kilometers
of giant pipelines (2.25 and 2.5 meters in diameter) for the irrigation of the
Negev (which certainly helped to “make the desert bloom”). The
Zionist state acquired 65 German- built ships, including four passenger
vessels.See 14.

Payments to Individuals

West German reparations have been paid out through several different programs,
including the Federal Indemnification (or Compensation) Law (BEG), the Federal
Restitution Law (BReuG), the Israel Agreement, and special agreements with 12
foreign countries (including Austria).See 15. By far the most important of these has
been the BEG indemnification law, which was first enacted in 1953 and revised
in 1956 and 1965. It was based on a compensation law promulgated earlier in the
American zone of occupation.

In the words of a background article about the reparations program that
appeared in a 1985 issue of Focus On, an official publication of the Bonn
government, the BEG laws “compensate those persecuted for political,
racial, religious or ideological reasons-people who suffered physical injury or
loss of freedom, property, income, professional and financial advancement as a
result of that persecution.” It also “guarantees assistance to the
survivors of the deceased victims.”See 16.

The BEG compensation law defined “persecution” and “loss
of freedom” very liberally. It stipulated payments for Jews who had simply
been required to wear the yellow star, even in Croatia, where the measure was ordered
by non-Germans. Payments were also ordered for any Jew who was ever in a
concentration camp, including the one in Shanghai, China, which was never under
German control. The BEG law authorized payments to any Jew who was ever
arrested, no matter what the reason. This meant that even Jews who were taken
into custody for criminal acts were entitled to German “compensation”
for “loss of freedom.”See 17.

The 1965 revision of the BEG specified that Germany was to be held
accountable for measures taken by Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary as early as
April 1941, if these actions had deprived the victims of all their freedom. The
fact that these countries acted against the Jews in 1941 independently of
Germany did not matter.See 18.

Significantly, the many Jewish survivors living in the Soviet Union and
the other Communist countries of eastern Europe were not covered by West
Germany’s BEG compensation program.See 19. And, of course, Jewish “Holocaust
survivors” who died before the West German compensation law (BEG) was
enacted in 1953 or before it really became effective in 1956 also never
received BEG restitution money.

The Canadian Jewish News reported in December 1981 that by the end of
1980, “The number of successful claimants is 4,344,378. Payments have
reached 50.18 billion German marks.”See 20. The Focus On article cited above noted
that between October 1953 and the end of December 1983, the West German
government paid out 56.3 billion marks on a total of 4,390,049 claims from
individuals under the BEG legislation.See 21.

Nevertheless, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution stated in 1985 that
about half of the Jewish “survivors” in the world have never received
reparations money. “An estimated 50 percent” of the Holocaust
“survivors throughout the world are on West German pensions,” the
newspaper reported.See 22. In addition to survivors in Communist
countries who are not entitled to West German compensation, the paper reported
that many Jewish survivors living in the United States have never received
reparations money. The paper found that 79 percent of the Jewish
“Holocaust survivors” living in the Atlanta area had, at one time or
another, asked the Bonn government for restitution. About 66 percent received

About 40 percent of those receiving BEG compensation money live in
Israel, the Focus On article reported, while 20 percent live in West Germany
and 40 percent live in other countries.See 23. It would thus appear that about 80
percent, or 3.5 million, of the 4.39 million claims are from Jews.

Although the number of BEG compensation claims is larger than the number
of individual claimants, it is nevertheless difficult to reconcile these figures
with the legendary “six million” Jewish wartime dead, particularly
since at least half of the world’s Jewish “survivors” never received
German compensation.


The Luxembourg Agreement obligated the West German government to pay
three billion German marks to the State of Israel and 450 million marks to
various Jewish organizations. Accordingly, the West German Finance Minister
announced in 1953 that he expected that the reparations payments would
eventually total four billion marks. Time would prove this a ludicrous
underestimate.See 24.

By 1963, the German people had already paid out 20 billion marks, and by
1984 the total had risen to 70 billion.See 25. In late 1987 the West German
parliament approved an additional 300 million marks in “restitution to the
victims of National Socialist crimes.” The Bonn government announced at
that time the 80 billion marks had already been paid out and estimated that by
the year 2020 the payoff would total 100 billion marks which, at recent
exchange rates, would be the equivalent of $50 billion.See 26.

Although the West German reparations program is accepted and often
praised in the democratic West, it is also, at least implicitly, strikingly
undemocratic in two fundamental respects:

First, it regards Jews not as equal and fully integrated citizens of
whatever country they live in, but rather primarily as members of an alien and
cosmopolitan national group.

Second, it is based on the premise that the German nation, including
even the Germans who grew up since 1945, is collectively guilty of terrible
crimes, contrary to the democratic notion of individual responsibility for

West Germany’s lucrative and historically unparalleled payoff to Israel
and world Jewry is a legacy and permanent reminder of Germany’s catastrophic
defeat in 1945 and subsequent domination by foreign powers.


  1. “Reparations,      German,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 14, pp. 72-73.
  2. D. v. Westernhagen, “Wiedergutgemacht?,” Die Zeit, No. 41, Oct. 5,
    1984, p. 33.
  3. “Restitution in Germany,” Focus On, May 1985, p. 2.
  4. K. Lewan, Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1975, pp. 48-49.
  5. Konrad Adenauer, Erinnerungen 1953-55 (Stuttgart 1966), pp. 140-142. Quoted in:
    K. Lewan, Joumal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1975, pp. 53-54.
  6. Quoted in. K. Lewan, Joumal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1975, p.54.
  7. J. Kreysler and K. Jungfer, Deutsche Israel-Politik (Munich 1965); p. 33.
    Quoted in: K. Lewan, Joumal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1975, p. 54.
  8. L. Sebba, The Annals of the American Academy of Polihcal and Social Science,
    Vol. 450, July 1980, p. 206.
  9. N.  Goldmann, The Autobiography of Nahum Goldmann, p. 249.
  10. LeNouvel  Observateur, Oct. 25, 1976, p. 120. See also interview with Robert
    Faurisson in The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1981 (Vol. 2, No.
    4), pp. 350, 373.
  11. N. Goldmann, Autobiography, p. 276.
  12. Le Nouvel Observateur, 25 Oct. 25, 1976, p. 122.
  13. W. Laqueur, Commentary, May 1965, p. 29.
  14. Nicholas  Balabkins, West German Reparations to Israel. Cited in K. Lewan, Journal
    of Palestine Studies, Summer 1975, p. 42.
  15. “Restitution  in Germany,” Focus On, May 1985.
  16. “Restitution  in Germany,” Focus On, May 1985, p. 3.
  17. R. Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, Vol. 3, p. 1166.
  18. R. Hilberg, Destruction, Vol. 3, p. 1173.
  19. R. Hilberg, Destruction, p. 1170. The New York Times reported in 1983 that
    the clients of the New York office of the Conference on Material Claims
    Against Germany “are primarily newly arrived Russian Jewish] victims
    of the Nazi era” (D. Margolick “Soviet Emigre Lawyer …,”
    The New York Times, Thursday, March 10, 1983, p. B2.)
  20. Canadian
    Jewish News, 11 Dec. 1981, p. 4.
  21. “Restitution in Germany,” Focus On, May 1985, p. 3.
  22. The  Atlanta Journal and Constitution, March 31, 1985,14A,15A,17A.
  23. “Restitution      in Germany,” Focus On, May 1985, p. 3.
  24. D.  v. Westernhagen, Die Zeit, Oct. 5, 1984, p. 36.; “Restitution in
    Germany,” Focus On, May 1985.
  25. D. v. Westernhagen, Die Zeit, Oct. 5, 1984, p. 36.
  26. “Bundestag  Approves Additional DM 300 Million for Victims of Nazis,” The Week in
    Gerrnany (New York German Information Center), December 11, 1987. The
    dollar value of the German mark has fluctuated over the years. A recent
    exchange rate was 50 cents per mark.

From The Journal of Historical Review, Summer 1988 (Vol. 8, No. 2), pages


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