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Compensation & Restitution foR the Jewish ViCtims of the holoCaust by Clemens n nathan

The villa at Wannsee, location of the Wannsee Conference in the calamitous history of the nazi era in europe, many millions of forced labourers worked in German industry and agriculture. then there were the slave workers. they were ordered to be worked to death, inside or outside the camps, within six months to make room for the next batch of Jewish slave workers. the objective for this for the third Reich after the wannsee Conference was, as you know, that every Jew should be exterminated


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Jewish slaves during the Second World War in all German-occupied and controlled parts of the world. six million were killed either through gassing and burning in camps or through shooting, including 1.5 million children. shooting and gassing were also carried out in mobile units, particularly in eastern europe and the former soviet union. in poland about 10% of the population were Jews. three million were murdered. at the end of the war the former third Reich was divided into four zones – Russian, french, British and american and the laws relating to reparations were quite different in each. the Russians were totally opposed to it for anyone individually, despite Babi Yar and other horrors (the ussR dismantled virtually the entire industry of east Germany, however, and shifted it to Russia), the french and British at first were indifferent. the


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Germans surrender to Field Marshal Montgomery, 3 May 1945 americans – from the very beginning – maintained that reparations were essential. they introduced the first property legislation and two years later the uK followed. after the Berlin airlift (1948/49), the allies decided that they wanted an independent Germany; in 1949 the federal Republic was created. the Berlin Corridor was the beginning of fundamental change in the allied Zones. German-Jewish refugees had applied immediately the second world war ended to get back their own possessions. an organisation was structured with the heads of leading Jewish communal organisations from the main countries to which they had fled. Konrad adenaeur, the mayor of Cologne, a devout Catholic, saw that if Germany became an independent state soon it would need to accept the horrors of the third Reich as a liability with which they would have to try to deal. they were after all the successors of the third Reich.


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“You shall not murder and inherit.” it was their moral obligation to sort this out. the number of human lives lost was so enormous that any settlement would still be insignificant. other German politicians agreed. when Konrad adenaeur became their first Chancellor, he was Konrad Adenaeur aware that to ignore reparations would create a poor image with the allies, particularly the united states. the Jewish organisation created for this called itself the Conference on Jewish material Claims against Germany (or as it is known generally “the Claims Conference”). the Germans described their settlements as ‘wieder Gut machung’ – ‘to make whole or to make good’. the Claims Conference could never ever accept that any material claims could make good what had been done to those left alive, let alone for those who had been murdered. there was opposition from some Jews to make any settlement. how on earth could the Germans pay with money for the murder of six million people? if they gave money and it was accepted by the Jewish community it


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British soldiers outside a DP Camp, 1945-6 would surely be classed as ‘blood money’ over the corpses of those who were no longer there. there was a debate between these concepts and those who felt it was correct to urgently help survivors. incredible poverty existed at the end of the second world war in Dp camps and elsewhere. the Kibbutzim in israel absorbed 50% of the refugees. some old people who would never be able to work again were taken to old age and nursing homes. there were terribly sad stories how many of the ships to palestine from Dp camps were turned back but very gradually refugees there were absorbed in america, australia, throughout europe and elsewhere, where communal services took care of them in a very moving


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way. the challenge to absorb them was not easy. some of the people from the camps were difficult. some had only survived by being very self-centred and tough. this was the situation seven years after the end of hostilities. the Central British fund had dealt with 70,000 immigrants from Germany and elsewhere from 1933 onwards and after the war the Jewish trust Corporation dealt with approximately 2,000 settlements made from the British Zone to the uK. following extensive negotiations between israel, the Claims Conference and the federal Republic of Germany in luxemberg in 1952, agreements were reached. the first was the israeli one, agreed on condition that they would use the money to buy equipment from Germany for new infrastructure in israel. the fRG had little money and offered a twelve-year programme for israel (only four years old) for different infrastructure projects to help immediately with the enormous problems encountered there as a result of the absorption of so many refugees the second agreement was with the Claims Conference for the refugees outside israel. they needed money to resettle refugees and revitalise Jewish communities. these agreements heralded the beginning of reparations. money was also given for state pensions to all eligible survivors born in Germany and living in the west and in israel. the funding for this was sent directly to them from Germany. more and more problems arose, making it clear that the funding was inadequate for all the


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atrocities people had suffered. many gaps existed, especially for those left behind the iron Curtain who could not obtain pensions or property restitution from the fRG. the Claims Conference also approached German industrialists who were reluctant, apart from a few exceptions, to give compensation for those who had worked in their factories for no wages and under terrible conditions. the industrialists had benefited from this. some industrialists such as flick and Krupp had been sentenced to prison in landsberg. they were released a few years after the war. their expertise was needed to rebuild the federal Republic. frederick flick had supported hitler from the very beginning in 1933 and had been on a planning committee with himmler, as had Krupp. their wealth was again beyond belief. a constant battle took place with the flick industrial corporations, like Daimler-Benz and Dynamit nobel which had made shells in the war. thousands of young women worked in their underground plants. these poor Jewish women, starving in the concentration camps, were only driven part of the way to work. they had to walk about one hour and were given a ration of one piece of bread. they would Frederick Flick work twelve hours in one of the


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factories and then returned in a similar way to their concentration camps. many of the women collapsed in the works from exhaustion and malnutrition. those who worked slowly were not allowed to come back. the managers would inform the camps and the women were murdered to save space and the next ones would come. all this has been very carefully documented. flick always played cat and mouse, never agreeing to anything but pretending that he would do something. it was a nightmare. finally, on his 80th birthday, flick announced that he was giving a very, very large sum of money (80 million deutschmarks) to the ss pension fund and nothing would come for his former slave workers. he had promised to give some. he died when he was 90. when the Claims Conference approached his family they explained that they could not give money where their father had had no intention to do so. the flicks called in the Deutsche Bank to organise their father’s vast estate. the Claims Conference showed the bank all the correspondence. the bank insisted that unless the flick family accepted to pay compensation they would not touch the estate. a settlement was made at a modest figure. the Claims Conference accepted the money which, although far from sufficient for these poor women, was better than waiting another few years by which time they might all have been dead. it took 41 years to finally obtain this money in 1986. the brutality of the Krupp organisation is another illustration. many of them had died of typhoid or were


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exterminated. Krupp gave 10 million deutschmarks for forced and slave labourers in 1959, 14 years after the end of the second world war. when the Berlin wall collapsed in 1989 the Claims Conference approached Chancellor Kohl to see whether he would accept that all the Jews from the former German Democratic Republic would be allowed to receive compensation and restitution like those living in the federal Republic. this was agreed. the Claims Conference then took Chancellor Kohl 60 surveyors to look through the whole of the former GDR where there had been houses, shops and businesses probably belonging to Jewish families. those found were registered so that it could be made clear that Jewish properties were protected after the statute of limitations for other claimants and could be claimed for by those people who had fled elsewhere, their heirs or as heirless property. massive advertising took place in 35 countries drawing attention to what had been negotiated and asking people to apply. the results were impressive. there was still a sum which was not claimed, mainly belonging to families who had been killed. after a few years, it was decided that some of this should be recycled for those in


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desperate need. the needs of Jews living in eastern europe could be partly met with these funds. there was now a possibility to reach out to all in the former soviet union. Jews there were used to living from hand-tomouth with hardly anything to eat and not enough fuel to be warm in winter. they had the bad luck that when auschwitz and other camps in eastern europe were closed they moved eastwards. soup kitchens were opened with local Jewish communal institutions. these developments were successful and with the extra money from the former GDR much more was done and is still being done today. 26,000 holocaust survivors still use these facilities today. none of them have yet received property restitution from their countries such as poland, hungary and Russia. it was agreed to use a small percentage of Claims Conference funds for the re-establishment of Jewish european Communities and for cultural education about the holocaust in europe and elsewhere. Yad Vashem, a memorial & museum about the holocaust in Jerusalem was created; also the museum of the Diaspora in tel aviv. other Centres like the holocaust museum in washington and the imperial war museum in london were further examples. the money came from different settlements. another agreement was reached with others for former forced labourers who worked in German industry and now live in what was the former soviet union. their conditions are appalling as they are for all the former Jewish slave workers living there. the enforcement of an


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Yad Vashem Hall of Names agreement for everyone finally came about because some of the former Jewish slave survivors living in the united states were able to help, as well as due to the negative publicity in the us press. the powerful Class actions they implemented there sometimes helped. the German industrialists realised that some form of legal peace was necessary; otherwise they could be sued again and again. they wanted to continue to trade with the usa and american lawyers could block this. it was then that they approached their Government. finally an agreement was signed for a legal peace. it came about under Gerhard schroeder (the social Democratic Chancellor) in coalition the Green party. in his previous election manifesto, he had referred to the duty of the federal Republic to settle


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these matters. his discussions with German industry were difficult because reparations had been planned to be settled for a definite amount in a later peace treaty. Germany and the allies had not signed a peace treaty. the last joint agreement in september 1990 was the two plus four agreement (after which, in october Gerhard Schroeder 1990, Germany was unified). the question of reparations was at that time to be left to a final peace treaty. madeleine albright stated that, as far as the united states was concerned, the Debt Conference was the last agreement. some industries and banks called in independent historians to examine the whole background of what had happened. it was based on many of these independent reports that settlements for 10 billion Deutschmarks on a 50/50 basis between the Government and industry were finally agreed in 2000, 55 years after the war. in negotiating for extra compensation for women who had endured medical experiments, it was discovered that some of them did manage to give birth later. unfortunately, some of these children (about 600) were malformed – mentally or physically – and the Claims


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Conference pleaded for additional funds for these unfortunate children, now in their sixties. finally a token was received. that is a complicated story on its own. one of the elderly women looked at me when i got angry and said, “why do you get so excited in the discussions? i was lucky to have medical experiments carried out on me. this saved my life; otherwise i would have been in the gas chamber and, look, i have had a wonderful life now despite everything i endured.� it is amazing how the human brain can adjust and cope with the most unbelievable tragedies in life. as the knowledge of what had happened during the war became clearer from large-scale documentary research and from individuals, it was realised that there were european institutions that continued to benefit from holocaust victims. the Banks in switzerland, like uBs and Credit suisse, held sums deposited by Jews who had entrusted their money there during the hitler regime. the insurance companies such as the Generali and others held their life insurances. stolen art was in museums. property belonging to deported Jews was given to municipalities in many occupied countries. the descendants of many of the deceased could not provide documents such as death certificates and had their applications rejected. this was unacceptable to the Claims Conference. there were also problems concerning claims relating to Jews outside Germany and austria. the world Jewish Restitution organisation (whose Chairman was edgar


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Bronfman) with the support of the Claims Conference dealt with these. Bronfman, for example, flew to Berne in his private jet, together with the president of the Claims Conference, israel singer, to meet the swiss Bankers federation in 1997. the Chairman of the swiss Bankers made them stand behind a desk and accused them of trying to blackmail the swiss Banks. Bronfman and singer were outraged. they flew back to america and went to see president Clinton. he appointed a secretary of state, stuart eizenstat, for them. they spoke to senators and the treasurer of new York state, suggesting that no tenders for Bonds from swiss Banks be accepted in new York until the problems of restitution were settled. the new York treasurer then called on all the state treasurers to hold a meeting. the main income for treasury Bonds for swiss Banks was crucial for them. Bronfman was invited back to Berne. Discussions became constructive.

Edgar Bronfman receives the Presidential medal from Bill Clinton


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in 1998 their offer to settle at $1.25 billion was accepted, rather than bargaining for too long, so that those who needed the funds would get some money straight away. a group of independent swiss historians appointed by the Berne Government later showed that the swiss Banks had acted dishonestly and they were condemned. the final payment was effected 53 years after the end of the war. similar negotiations took place with insurance Companies who settled for $100 million. this helped to give some aid to some impoverished survivors and their children who had tried unsuccessfully before to obtain some compensation. in 1952 about 600,000 who had been in camps or hidden elsewhere were still alive. many have of course since died. the administrative work involved in the organisation of the disbursement of money from the Banks, insurance Companies and the German Government is an enormous operation. in one year alone, 280,000 received special one-off payments from the Claims Conference, in addition to regular payments for survivors in 75 countries. in some settlements, only 25% of the applications were valid. often there are as many as 20% who claimed they had been in concentration camps but have never been there. in Bad aronsfeld, the RedCross Centre has a record and details of most people who had been in camps, including those who had been exterminated. the records are now digitally available. at the Yad Vashem museum in israel they have records and many photographs of four million holocaust


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exterminated victims. Camps are still being found where everybody was wiped out. the checking of claims is carried out by a series of computers in new York, frankfurt, Budapest and tel aviv, synchronised to enable applications to be examined. sometimes similar claims are made under the same name in different countries and movingly brothers, sisters and other relations are brought together, not realising that their relatives were still alive. over 8,000 telephone calls are received each week in new York alone, in many languages. the callers often want to speak about their own claims or just to have contact with someone so that they are not lonely. the Claims Conference has set up Day Centres in different countries. some survivors suffer terrible traumas of their past experiences. it is a comfort for them to be with people with similar problems. others have fully integrated. it is difficult to measure what is best for those from the camps. some of the young people who came to england from the camps were sent immediately to a special centre near newcastle where they were given for the very first time in their lives beds with sheets and nourishing food. they were able to take part in sporting activities there, as well as being taught english. these youngsters mostly grew up successfully. many of us are proud of the way that the work of the Claims Conference enabled them to be rehabilitated and continue to live with dignity. i have only highlighted a tiny part of the negotiations as it is a very complex subject. over $60 billion have been needed and obtained in over 30


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agreements. this year we received 100 million euros for home Care urgently needed for approximately 70 countries. other Commissions are dealing with the restitution of stolen art and this is ongoing. Definitions are being hammered out on how countries and the art world should approach this. there was also a Commission on gold. a few mistakes were made by the allies and a settlement was made in the form of gold to sort this out at a Conference in london. there is a moral and legal obligation to pursue claims for survivors as well as those who perished. unfortunately, there are still major areas where settlements have not been reached and which continue to occupy us today. Recognition for those who suffered and historical correctness are the priorities to which survivors consider they are entitled. for many, finance comes after this. there are many remarkable stories of holocaust survivors who have contributed enormously to the development of new industries, sport and politics. i could not possibly speak about all of them but the story of one close friend has always moved me. he came here after liberation from Buchenwald. following rehabilitation, he managed slowly to build up a business in the clothing industry. at the same time, he was determined to keep fit after all his nightmares. he became a weight-lifter and, much to the joy of us all, he was selected to compete several times with the British olympic team. he did extremely well and was presented with several Gold and Bronze medals from international sport competitions,


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including the Commonwealth Games. no-one could have imagined that, with his background, he would ever be so fit. another was in our olympic swimming team. i am amazed again and again how positive many of the survivors are and seem to have little hatred for what they went through. the grandson of the late friedrich flick, Gert Rudolph flick, was approached as to whether he could donate funds to start a Chair for human Rights at oxford university. he offered ÂŁ400,000 which was accepted until he insisted that the funds should be called ‘the flick Centre for human Rights’. this was considered an outrage. no college could possibly accept. i often wondered if this was his polite way to reject giving. an anonymous donor gave the equivalent. one of the friends of flick suggested that he might like to join the athenaeum in 1994. i must confess that when the flick name came up i found it extremely unpleasant. i did discuss this with the secretary at the time, Richard smith, who told me that if i made an issue of the matter i would lose because the majority of Club members would not want the sins of the father put on the son. But in Deuteronomy (13/2 in the Decalogue) it is also mentioned that God will visit the sins of the fathers upon the second and third generations! i decided not to make an issue but for many years i felt incredibly ashamed. i did explain to the secretary that i would not like the children of hitler to be in our Club. after flick was elected he only stayed for a few years and i had the


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good fortune never to meet him. should i have made a drama out of this? i have a deep affection for the athenaeum Club. i continually enjoy wonderful experiences through the diverse people i meet there. the last thing i wanted to do was spoil this harmonious atmosphere. the work which we do today is also for victims of genocide worldwide. my organisation held a conference in the hague where we had 80 representatives from countries which had suffered genocides. we shared our experiences and it was deeply moving. it is surely our duty to use all our experiences to improve the lives of those who have suffered. “he who saves one life saves all of humanity� (torah).

This paper was first given as a lecture at The Athenaeum Club, London (pictured above), in 2011


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the Clemens nathan Research Centre, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of international human rights, is the research arm of the Consultative Council of Jewish organisations, a human rights nGo with consultative status at the united nations, founded in 1946 by the nobel prize laureate René Cassin. its constituent organisations are the anglo-Jewish association and the alliance israélite universelle. it is named after Clemens nathan who is also its first Chairman. alan stephens (former editor at Brill) is Director of Research and Richard schiffer (aDRg ambassadors) is secretary. the activities of both organisations have included holding lectures and conferences, and sponsoring books on human rights. since its establishment in 2004, the CnRC has initiated a number of innovative programmes, including a long-term research project, in collaboration with the international Bar association and the Raoul wallenberg institute, lund university, sweden, to formulate rules of conduct for human rights fact-finding missions. since february 2005, the CnRC has organised numerous successful conferences – in lund, on fact-finding; in london, on Religion and human Rights (with the Commonwealth institute, university of london), on terrorism and human Rights, on foreign policy and human Rights, on the freedom of the media and human Rights; in Geneva on maternal mortality and human Rights; and in strasbourg at a conference on ‘words into action’ in the presence of the president of the european parliament and other distinguished guests. all CnRC conferences generate edited publications. the CnRC also organizes periodic René Cassin memorial lectures. the CCJo delegate at the Council of europe is maître louis Bloch. a younger members group, the CCJo René Cassin, is active in london. Produced by the Clemens Nathan Research Centre Flat 10, 3 Cambridge Terrace, London NW1 4JL T: 020 7034 1986 F: 020 7034 1981 www.clemensnathanresearchcentre.org

Compensation and Restitution for the Jewish Victims of the Holocaust  

A brief survey of the founding, role and achievements of the Claims Conference

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