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Journal of Asian American Studies 4.3 (2001) 235-250
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Jewish and Japanese American Reparations:
Political Lessons for the Africana Community
ricardo rené laremont
In 1945 the German people, after having been defeated by the Allied forces, were forced to confront their aspirations of invincible military prowess and alleged racial superiority. After having been defeated in war, few Germans were concerned with the Jewish survivors of their concentration camps. Fewer considered claims for Jewish reparations seriously. Nevertheless, in 1945, Jewish people began raising demands for reparations. In 1952, they obtained reparations via an international treaty entitled the Luxembourg Agreement, which obligated the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to pay 3.45 billion Deutsche Marks (DM) ($845 million) in reparations to Israel and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference) for Jewish beneficiaries over a twelve-year period. Politics rather than benevolence forced the Germans to make this decision.
When we reflect upon the social and political climate of immediate post-World War II Germany, it is probably very difficult for most of us to imagine the hostile climate and the vigorous political opposition that confronted Jews in their quest for reparations. During that first decade after World War II, Jewish victims of Nazi terror often had to confront their former persecutors on a daily basis. Many Nazis who should have been jailed after World War II frequently reentered government. Large [End Page 235] numbers of the German people clearly abhorred their Jewish victims during the war; after the war they did not undergo a sudden conversion to tolerance and acceptance. In this environment, despite considerable societal and political odds, the Jewish reparations movement was successful in attaining its objectives.
The obligation to pay reparations was imposed by the Allies and Israel upon Germany and the German people; it was also partly embraced by Germany itself because it eventually became in its interest to do so. Paying reparations was costly and burdensome. Nevertheless, because of the diplomatic pressure applied by the Allies, the state of Israel, and the Claims Conference, West Germany succumbed and submitted to paying reparations. This was done despite mass West German grass-roots opposition to the idea.
Forerunner to Reparations: The Allied Restitution Law
Formal reparations payments were embodied in a treaty entitled the Luxembourg Agreement, which was signed in 1952. Even before the enactment of this treaty, however, the U.S. military government in West Germany recognized that dispossessed Jews were entitled to reparations for lost property. In November 1947, the U.S. military government promulgated Law Number 59 on the Restitution of Property Stolen During the Course of "Aryanization of the Economy." This martial law created the first set of legal procedures for the restitution of property taken from Jewish persons during the Nazi period. This first law focused on the restitution of property to individuals or, alternatively, the provision of monetary compensation for losses. Under this law, legal remedies were available only to individuals who could prove property loss. This martial law did not provide for collective rights for reparations. That right would be created later in the Luxembourg Agreement.
The Luxembourg Agreement
Beginning in 1949, the state of Israel and the Claims Conference began diplomatic efforts demanding German acknowledgement and financial responsibility for Nazi war crimes. In its initial post-war demands, Israel [End Page 236] and the Conference demanded financial reparations, efforts to combat anti-Semitism, the reeducation of the German young people, and investigations of continued Nazi participation in the new West German government.
In response to these demands, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had this to say in his September 27, 1951 address to the Bundestag:
The overwhelming majority of the German people abominated the crimes committed against the Jews and did not participate in them. During the Nazi period there were many among the German people during the Nazi period who showed their readiness to help their fellow Jewish citizens at their own peril for religious reasons, from distress of conscience, out of shame at the disgrace of the...