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Restitution and Memory: Material Restoration in Europe

jan peczkis|Monday, May 15, 2017

TOPIC I. Disingenuous Arguments About Non-Jews Benefitting from the Efforts of the Holocaust Industry

I focus on some notable themes in this otherwise-mundane book, dividing my review into three main topics.


TOPIC I. Disingenuous Arguments About Non-Jews Benefitting from the Efforts of the Holocaust Industry

Defenders of Holocaust restitution never tire of reminding us that most of the beneficiaries, of the Claims Conference Program for Former Slave and Forced Laborers (around the year 2000), were Poles and other Eastern Europeans, not Jews. This argument is misleading for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the pursuit of an only-Jews-deserve-compensation policy would have become a political liability for Jews in general and the Holocaust Industry in particular. Let us elaborate.


Author Lutz Niethammer, a Professor of Modern History at Friedrich Schiller University Jena, had served as scientific advisor to the German Federal Chancellery on the question of compensation for Nazi forced laborers. (p. 41). He points out that, “At the time of the individual lawsuits, the only class actions were in the interest of former Jewish forced or slave laborers, mostly living in the United States; and there were parties prepared to settle a deal within the framework. That would have affected approximately 5 percent of the problem of Nazi forced labor…” (p. 86).


Lutz Niethammer contemplated the unfairness of non-Jewish laborers denied compensation as “balanced” by the default (presumed) special victimhood-entitlement of Jewish forced laborers. (p. 86). However, he is candid about the fact that the clincher boiled down to tactical considerations: Compensating only Jewish forced laborers would be too glaring. Niethammer quips, “Within our working group, many feared that such a process would add oil to the fires of Eastern European anti-Semitism, poisoning the new European web of neighborly relations.” (p. 86).

Stuart E. Eizenstat, in his IMPERFECT JUSTICE, has claimed credit for persuading and pressuring the German side to include non-Jewish forced laborers for monetary compensation. Lutz Niethammer disputes Eizenstat, pointing to the Germans as the ones that had first suggested the inclusion of Eastern Europeans. (p. 102).


TOPIC II. Hypocrisy: Much “Holocaust Restitution” Monies Do NOT Go to Holocaust Survivors

The Holocaust Industry has always played on public and politicians’ emotions by promoting its actions in terms of “belated justice for all those traumatized and destitute Holocaust survivors”. But not all monies that are won actually go to those who actually went through the Holocaust. Yet--wouldn't you know it--the Holocaust Industry continues to demand more and more “for all those poor and soon-to-die Holocaust survivors!”

This long-aggrieved-Holocaust-survivor manipulative tactic continues to the present day. As I am writing this review, the Holocaust Industry has had the audacity to publish a tear-jerking article in the NEW YORK TIMES (May 10, 2017, by Nina Siegel) about a long-denied Holocaust-surviving Jew in Poland, and how the heartless Polish government avoids paying what is rightfully hers.


Hans Gunter Hockerts describes the fruits of the Ben Gurion/Adenauer negotiations as follows, “The agreement took as its yardstick the cost for integrating surviving refugees and obligated the Federal Republic to providing material goods valued at some DM 3 billion to the state (sic) of Israel, spread over twelve years, as well as a payment of DM 450 million to the Claims Conference.” (p. 332).

Hockerts brings up Norman Finkelstein’s THE HOLOCAUST INDUSTRY, in which Finkelstein states that the Claims Conference used most of the DM 450 million for purposes other than aid to Holocaust survivors. Hockerts concludes that, while the Claims Conference was acting within the law, its actions had violated the spirit of the agreement, had effectively misled the West German government, and had creatively (by “its right to decide the urgency of needs”) diverted the monies away from Holocaust survivors.

To elaborate on the foregoing, Hans Guenter Hockerts remarks, “The federal government was thinking here of individual assistance, especially in hardship cases not covered by federal compensation law. And it was indeed upset when the annual reports on utilization revealed other practices: in the main, the Claims Conference provided support to community institutions oriented to charity or cultural work.” (p. 367). So, even though the Claims Conference had done nothing illegal, its actions (besides being inconsistent with a professed sensitivity to the plight of Holocaust survivors) did not pass the smell test. Hockerts quips, “Yet Finkelstein’s critical analysis provides contemporary history with a welcome added reason to include the history of the recipient institutions of compensation (and the successor organizations in restitution) in the purview of their inquiry.” (p. 367).


Lutz Niethammer describes the early stages of the drive to get German companies to indemnify forced laborers—only Jewish ones at the time—even if the companies eventually won dismissal of the lawsuits against them. The “Remembrance, Responsibility, and the Future” foundation was to raise at least DM 2 billion. Even at the stage of contemplation and planning, the “aiding of long-denied Holocaust survivors” was NOT top priority. Niethammer expounds on this, “Half of the funds were to be distributed to deserving survivors before the turn of the millennium, starting with the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, on September 1, 1999. The other half would be placed in a foundation, “Remembrance and Future”; its capital yield, over the long term, was to promote international cultural and social projects for historical remembrance and international understanding, as well as initiatives in the interests of human rights and social justice.” (p. 85).


Niethammer confirms the fact that Holocaust-restitution claims rely at least as much on political pressure, directed against the target of the claim, as they do on the legal merits of the lawsuit. He thus paraphrases John Kornblum, the American ambassador to Bonn, who “…explained that the judicial sphere in the United States was much more political than in Europe, and collective lawsuits of this type were often intended only to initiate a negotiating process, reaching out for a compromise with or without the help of the courts.” (pp. 85-86).


TOPIC III: Implications of Alleged Holocaust Exceptionalism

Much of this work is not about Holocaust restitution. It is just the standard Holocaust-related fare. Permit two examples.


Holocaust supremacism does not only mean that the Holocaust gets far more attention than all the genocides of non-Jews put together. It also means that discussion about non-Jewish genocides is acceptable only as long as the Holocaust remains at the center of the moral universe, and the genocides of all non-Jewish peoples are relegated to satellites that revolve around the Holocaust.

As so many authors before and after him, Dan Diner repeats the canned complaint that Poles are not prostrating themselves in homage to the reigning Judeocentric concepts of the Holocaust. Worse yet, Polish genocidal losses effectively hinder Poles from “knowing their place” as a second-class genocide. To make these points, of course in other words, Dan Diner writes, “By contrast, certain European states that suffered enormously under Nazi occupation—but which, like Poland, have developed their distinctive memory of victimhood, ultimately resulting in a dynamic rivalry with Jewish memory—may find it difficult to come to terms with accepting the Jewish Holocaust as a prime, all-embracing, foundational event.” (p. 17).

Not content with this usual mystification of the Holocaust, Diner also repeats the following standard Holocaust-Supremacist meme, “According to modes of interpretation of medieval political iconography, the Poles see themselves in the context of their tradition as ‘Christ among the nations.’” (p. 18). Horror of horrors.


Francois Guesnet has an article (pp. 141-on) on Jedwabne, involving an uncritical paean to the false claims of neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross, and the usual homage to Jan Blonski and his Pole-diminishing mystification of the Holocaust. It is translated from German into English by Bill Templer. (p. 155). But why was it initially written for German consumption? Was it yet another attempt to diminish German guilt by shifting the blame onto the Poles?

As a matter of fact, this book has several articles that enlist the German expellees as victims more-or-less on par with the victims of Nazi Germany. This confuses the aggressor-nation and the victim-nations. [A burglar breaks into a home and shoots the owner. The owner manages to shoot back at the burglar in self-defense. Since both suffer from gunshot wounds, have they now become equivalent?]

This conflation of Germans and non-Germans, among other things, ignores the fact that Nazism was an unmistakably German phenomenon that had deep and broad-based roots in German thinking and culture, moreover over many centuries. See the second comment under this review.
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