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?