NOS News•today, 07:00
Of Wiedergutmachung became made a cautious start in difficult Jewish-German negotiations on a castle in Wassenaar. Seven years after the Second World War, agreements were made there for the Treaty of Luxembourg, signed 70 years ago today, which made German compensation money available for the first time for Jewish victims.
“For the first time in history, representatives of victims literally sat down with representatives from the country of the perpetrators,” explains historian Lorena De Vita of Utrecht University, who recently conducted research into the importance of the conversations.
The talks were the first official negotiations between West Germany and Israel, two countries that did not exist during the war. Gathered in the Claims Conference, 23 Jewish organizations worldwide also spoke about billions in damages and reparations.
Chancellor Adenauer called compensation for Jewish victims the main responsibility for the new German republic. “In the name of the German people unimaginable crimes have been committed which oblige us to moral and material satisfaction.”
But his country did not fully support the negotiations. Germany was in the process of reconstruction and faced huge numbers of displaced persons. The Treasury warned that the country could not afford any capital in war casualties.
Moreover, adds De Vita, anti-Semitism had certainly not been completely eradicated. “There was a lot of opposition at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Many senior professional diplomats had also served under the Third Reich and were back in their posts in 1952. Behind the scenes they opposed this process.”
The talks were also controversial in Israel. While the country could use the money to accommodate the hundreds of thousands who had left Europe after the war, many were disgusted by the idea of talking to Germans. For example, radical groups demanded German blood instead of Deutsche Marken.
De Vita: “At this time, Israeli passports still said ‘valid for all countries except Germany’. Moreover, it was against people talking about what was called blood money. How can you negotiate an amount for murdered families? That is simply impossible .”
It led to fierce demonstrations. A Knesset session about this had to be halted when the parliament building was pelted with stones. De Vita: “It was a huge crisis in the young state”.
A letter bomb to Adenauer from a Jewish resistance group killed a bomb expert and injured three others. A second letter bomb, addressed to the German delegation in The Hague, was intercepted at the last minute.
We felt the presence of all the people who could no longer be with us.
Due to the tense situation, the Netherlands was seen as an ideal location. The Netherlands was not involved, but close enough to Germany that diplomats could easily consult with the government in Bonn. The relatively remote Oud-Wassenaar Castle also offered sufficient space and privacy.
“It was all planned down to the last detail. The Jewish delegations would speak first, but come in last, when the Germans had already arrived. And although everyone knew German, the official language was initially English, to keep a certain distance.”
“There was no shaking of hands, no small talk,” Claims Conference Representative Saul Kagan later recalled. “It felt like we weren’t alone in the room. We felt the presence of all the people who couldn’t be with us anymore.”
The result of the difficult talks (four weeks turned into four months) was that instead of cash, West Germany would provide 3 billion marks in goods and services to Israel over a 12-year period, and another 450 million to the Claims Conference. for payments to Holocaust survivors. Due to later additions, the total amount grew to 80 billion in 70 years.
The talks of 1952 can serve as a guide to current issues.
More important than the money was the precedent that was set. “At the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a department now deals with reparations for crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity. That whole idea didn’t exist in 1952.”
“The Luxembourg Treaty is still relevant when you see it explicitly referred to in discussions of reparations for slavery or colonialism. The 1952 talks can serve as a guideline for such current issues,” De Vita thinks. “Especially if you look back and see how difficult the negotiations were at the time.”
“There was no law that forced Germany to sit at that table. But they made the political choice to do so.”