Reparations, restitution and price of oblivion | Stuart Eizenstat


International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn occasion to remember the six million Jews, including one and a half million children, who were systematically murdered between 1933 and 1945; honor the 300,000 survivors still living in the world, a third of them in Israel; and redouble our commitment to guarantee “never again”. It is a symbol of the path traveled in the memory of the Holocaust, that the United Nations and countries around the world, including for the first time this year, the United Arab Emirates, commemorate this solemn day.

The Holocaust was not inevitable. It is the most horrific example in history of what happens when people and governments are indifferent to evil.

My confrontation with the history of the inaction of the United States and other free countries during the Holocaust came after I left President Johnson’s White House staff and joined the Vice Presidential campaign. -President Humphrey, when I met a colleague Arthur Morse, who had just published a revolutionary book While six million people died, exposing what President Roosevelt knew about the genocide of the Jews and failed to act. It was a shock to me because FDR was an icon, and I promised myself that if ever given the chance, I would work for some redemption for this shameful chapter in WWII history, which was unworthy of the brave American and allied forces who sacrificed themselves to win the war, but whose governments did so little to save the Jews.

Hitler’s original goal was to make Germany judenrein, free of Jews, but they had nowhere to go. Hitler proceeded carefully and methodically, taking one ghastly step after another, gauging the reaction of the German public and the world, and seeing no one move towards the final solution. He received clear signals that the world did not care about Jews. At the 1938 Evian conference of more than 30 countries convened by the United States to deal with the plight of German Jewish refugees, the United States did not take the initiative to lift the strict immigration quotas . And American Jewish leaders, anxious to stir up anti-Semitic sentiment, did not put enough pressure on Roosevelt.

During the liberation of the death camps, Nazi atrocities were revealed to the world by Supreme Allied Commander (later President) Eisenhower. But the enormity of the Holocaust has not been fully appreciated by the international community.

  • Only a tiny fraction of Nazi perpetrators were tried at Nuremberg.
  • Jews trying to recover their confiscated homes and businesses were driven out or even killed in Poland and Lithuania and post-war restitution laws in Western Europe were inadequate.
  • Many survivors were placed in squalid IDP camps.
  • The British kept more than 50,000 survivors in camps in Cyprus, preventing them from entering Israel.

The new threat, the Soviet Union, increasingly preoccupied the United States and our Cold War allies and partners, while Nazi Germany and the Holocaust receded.

The April 1961 trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, following his dramatic capture by Israeli agents in Argentina, brought the human face of evil into living rooms and helped bring the staggering dimensions of murder to global audiences. Jews.

Meanwhile, for the first time in history, a defeated country that committed horrific crimes against civilians has agreed to compensate its victims. In 1951, Germany’s first post-war chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, accepted responsibility “for the unspeakable crimes that were committed in the name of the German people”. Shortly thereafter, 23 Jewish organizations set up the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany. In a historic agreement in Luxembourg in September 1952, the State of Israel and the West German government agreed to direct payments to survivors by Germany through the Claims Conference. Since then, Germany has paid over $80 billion to survivors. Appointed Special Negotiator in 2009, I worked with Roman Kent (z”l) and a team of Holocaust survivors from Israel, Poland and the UK to dramatically expand eligibility and benefits for over $9 billion for needy low-income survivors – for example, increasing home care services from 34 million in 2009 to over 600 million in 2022.

The Holocaust was not only the greatest genocide in the history of the world; it was the largest theft, of which only a small fraction was recovered. I led a unique effort for eight years in the Clinton administration and then the Obama administration, negotiating over $8 billion in recovery for Holocaust survivors and heirs of private business victims for the harm they caused to civilians, mostly Jews, during the World War. Second war. Swiss and French banks; German and Austrian forced labor companies; European insurance companies; as well as governments, including the French government for transporting Jews on their public railway; restitution or compensation for private and communal property; and the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art and the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which resulted in the recovery of thousands of works of art looted by the Nazis.

It is estimated that around 50% of the world’s 300,000 Holocaust survivors are poor or near-poor: 90% in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; 30% in the United States; and 35% of the 150,000 inhabitants of the State of Israel. It is unacceptable that those who suffered so much in their youth live their years of decline with new indignities.

But the last word on the Holocaust must be memory, not money. This is more important than ever with rising anti-Semitism and diminishing knowledge of the Holocaust. The survivors, the eyewitnesses, are dying at the rate of 6% per year. A recent survey of American Millennials and so-called Generation Z youth showed that more than half could not identify Auschwitz.

The need to preserve memory led me to recommend to President Carter in 1978 a Presidential Commission on the Holocaust chaired by Elie Wiesel, who proposed the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Since its opening in 1993, there have been 50 million visitors, about 90% of them non-Jews. Yad Vashem is one of Israel’s most visited sites next to the Western Wall, with around a million visitors a year since it opened in 1953. The new US Ambassador to Israel, my longtime friend Tom Nides, has made Yad Vashem its first stop on the finish.

In January 2000, I worked with Swedish Prime Minister Han Goran Persson to establish what became the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance of 35 countries to promote Holocaust education in their school systems. Unfortunately, not all of our 50 states have mandatory Holocaust training. In 2020, the US Congress passed the Never Again Holocaust Education Act to provide $10 million to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to promote Holocaust education. And at our recent Claims Conference negotiations, the German government agreed to fund global Holocaust education up to €18 million by 2023.

We must draw the lessons of the Holocaust into our own actions today.

Finally, the United States must work to end genocide and other atrocities wherever they occur: President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken, whose father-in-law Sam Pisar was a survivor of the Holocaust, have made human rights a major pillar of their foreign policy.

During the Clinton administration, Stuart E. Eizenstat served as United States Ambassador to the European Union, Under Secretary of State and Commerce, Under Secretary of the Treasury, and Special Representative to the President on Holocaust Issues . During the Carter administration, he was the president’s chief domestic policy adviser in the White House. He co-chairs the board of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI).


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