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Restitution As Confession of Guilt

I agree with Rabbi Waxman that there can be no real restitution for the horrors of the Holocaust. However, restitution is important for another reason: the agreement by Germany to pay restitution signified that Germany publicly accepted responsibility for its role in the destruction of European Jewry. There is a form of justice in such an admission. While most of the victims are not alive to benefit from such compensation (and even if they were alive, nothing could compensate them for the pain and tragedy they underwent in the Holocaust), their memories are well served by a system that holds perpetrators–nations or companies–accountable. I also personally respect a nation that can honestly deal with its dark past. Confession is part of the Jewish approach to teshuva, repentance. Reparations serve as a confession in this way.

Not all the nations who participated in the Holocaust have been as forthcoming as Germany. Austria has never confronted its Nazi past. Various corporations and Swiss banks continue to thwart efforts to return Jewish property to its owners or their descendents.

A recent article in Time Magazine notes that recent court cases against corporations to gain reparations have been criticized as gold-digging, but I see it differently. It’s an effort, by the last of our survivors, to force these companies to admit their guilt.

The fight for reparations, though, is not only the purview of survivors. In my family, it means we will not be replacing our Voyager minivan with another Chrysler product since I learned that Chrysler’s parent company, Daimler, fought against paying reparations for the Jewish slave labor they used during the Holocaust. I look at it this way: a refusal to pay reparations means the nation or company is unrepentant about its role in the Holocaust. As a Jew, I take such a refusal of responsibility as an affront to the Jewish people as a whole.

Reparations can never bring back all that was lost in the Holocaust, but it can do some little good in helping survivors through their last years. Perhaps most importantly, by acknowledging guilt, reparations can open pathways for reconciliation. Perhaps such admissions of guilt can also serve as a counter weight to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and a reminder of the danger the spread of such hatred represents. For true teshuva occurs when one’s confronted with a similar situation, and does not again make the same mistake.

–Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

Read the Full Debate: Is the Search for Restitution OK?

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posted April 13, 2007 at 8:36 pm

Thank you, Rabbi Grossman! It’s not about the money. Corporations need to be held accountable as well as countries, and stockholders need to be aware of where their money is coming from.

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posted April 14, 2007 at 2:01 am

You’re right. Perhaps the most important thing is the outright admission of guilt (which, inexplicably, does not seem to silence the Holocaust deniers in the world…). However, in a way, it’s also about the money. Throughout the Bible, when interpreted correctly, there are examples of how one is to recompense another for various types of wrongdoing and harm. It’s the right thing to do. It won’t bring back my mother’s murdered family, but for Germany to essentially pay a fine for its actions is not asking too much.

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Eva Feld

posted April 14, 2007 at 2:11 am

The Restitution is a must do thing. The way Germany goes about it is not only deliberately slow, literally waiting for the Holocaust generation and perhaps even their offsprings to die off so that the third generation would not lose interest and the records would go away and fade. It is important that Germany and its firms be kept aware of the past to understand the conning forethought plans to exterminate humans in an assembly line manufactured and created camps of death. Not unlike that is going right now in Darfur, what went on in Ugandah, Cambodia, Russia especially of Soviet era and even now. Holocausts don’t seem to be stoppable. Southwesttransplant

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posted April 15, 2007 at 3:30 am


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posted April 15, 2007 at 5:09 am

DEAR CHARLES LABIG PHD, PLEASE STOP SHOUTING AT ALL OF US!! There is absolutely no comparison between the Nazi Holocaust and US slavery and while US slavery was certainly evil, the scale, magnitude and time period make them completely inappropriate to compare, as do several other factors. So, while it’s easy to write a treatise on the differences between the two, it’s unnecessary. They’re just apples and oranges.

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posted April 15, 2007 at 9:40 pm

How can you claim “Reparations can never bring back all that was lost in the Holocaust, but it can do some little good in helping survivors through their last years” when 40% of these survivors live in poverty? How can you justify “collecting reparations” for someone when it is not even given to those who were the true victims? How can you state such a thing in good conscience?

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posted April 16, 2007 at 4:14 am

Tania, What on earth are you talking about? Who are the “true victims”? The ones that survive are not “true victims”? What are you really trying to say? And what would you suggest is the “right” thing to do?

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted April 16, 2007 at 5:11 am

I think the most important thing the whole entire world can do to make restitution is to do everything possible to make sure that another Holocaust doesn’t happen {to any group of people}. We need to move into action whenever a threat arises. I also feel it would be good for folks to remember those who were not Jews who also died during the Holocaust, and all the Righteous Gentiles who helped to save lives. Shalom.

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posted April 25, 2007 at 12:21 am

How dare you insist on “reparations” when you have 40% of the Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line in ISRAEL! What a bunch of hypocrites! Why don’t you explain to these people how you collect millions upon millions in reparations and yet still manage to have 40% of the Holocaust population kept in poverty? And while you’re at it, explain how you have the audacity to mouth off “it is owed to them” when they aren’t even getting it! And why not give each of these individuals, the true Holocaust survivors, an accounting of where all this money is spent? Because it sure is not spent on them. I am so sick of people like you preaching that you are owed when in fact, the people that are truly owed cannot collect. Tania

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