Compensation in Practice,
by Constantin Goschler. 2017
Reviewed by Jan Peczkis
This German work focuses on the efforts in 2000 to compensate the still-living former forced laborers of the Third Reich. It is striking to see how the German double-dealing done two decades ago still goes on today.
THE OLD GERMAN GAME OF CITING THE 1953 DECLARATION TO REFUSE JUSTICE FOR POLAND
In August 2022, Poland demanded $1.3 trillion in reparations from Germany for the destruction of Poland in WWII. Germany refused, citing a (Soviet-imposed) 1953 “agreement” wherein Poland repudiated any future claims against Germany. Ironically, Germany used the same lame 1953-excuse in her attempt to evade responsibility for compensating Polish forced laborers in 2000, as described below:
Henning Borggraefe comments, “In the first decades after the Second World War, forced labor was not factored into the debate over compensation for Nazi crimes…When in summer 1953 the Soviet Union and Poland renounced any claim to reparations from ‘Germany’ in order to stabilize the GDR, the West German government seemed amply forearmed against claims from abroad.” (pp. 30-31). Likewise, Michael G. Esch writes, “At the same time, Germany deflected all Polish demands for actual compensation with regard to a Polish declaration from 1953: on August 23, the People’s Republic of Poland had renounced all claims to reparations from the GDR. From the early 1990s on, members of Poland’s nascent victims’ associations increasingly called for an invalidation of this decision as ‘communist injustice’. But Poland’s pro-European governments dismissed these requests with reference to the ‘credibility of the Polish state as a subject of international law.’” (p. 131).
The game goes on.
NON-JEWISH VICTIMS OF THE NAZIS WERE AN AFTERTHOUGHT
Consider the events leading up to 2000. Benno Nietzel describes the actions of the JCC (Jewish Claims Conference), and writes, “Similarly, an internal strategy document in 1996 advised distinguishing between different categories of persecution and demanding compensation only for the worst affected categories of former forced laborers: Jewish compensation camp prisoners.” (p. 82).
Henning Borggraefe comments, “Similarly, the group of persecutees eligible for compensation was not immediately obvious but rather had to be defined. The lawyers quoted above filed their claim mostly on behalf of Jewish concentration camp survivors, and the German economy made its subsequent offer primarily with this group in mind.” (p. 28).
POLISH SUFFERING WAS MEASURED BY THE YARDSTICK OF JEWISH SUFFERING
In the West, it was all about the Jews. Michael G. Esch wrote, “The Polish delegation sought legal recourse not only to secure Poland a place at the negotiating table but also to broaden the public conception of Nazi victims, who, at least in the United States, were still widely identified exclusively with Jews.” (p. 132). He continues, “Qualitative as well as quantitative issues shaped the debate over recognition of Polish victims of Nazism. The Polish side argued that the Poles were victims of genocide and therefore ranked close to Jews in the victim hierarchy. It thus claimed entitlement to an overall amount of compensation equal to those for Jewish victims.” (p. 132).
The supremacy of the Holocaust over all other genocides meant that Jewish suffering was the default suffering even when non-Jewish victims finally entered the picture. Constantin Sander made these revealing comments, “Ultimately, former forced laborers hoped to have their own histories of suffering regarded on equal terms as that of the Jews, continuing a conflict that had sparked during the preliminary negotiations.” (p. 9).
JEWS GET MORE MONEY THAN THE POLES
Nietzel describes the fireworks that occurred when Poles began to challenge the Jewish monopoly on the seeking of compensation, “The Polish Interior Ministry issued a memorandum in April 1999 making its position clear. It felt that a global fund for forced laborers ‘would compensate some victim groups a second time,’ and explicitly named the Jewish persecutees as an example. Poland therefore suggested offsetting the Jewish victims’ current share of the fund against previous compensation payments, which was completely unacceptable to the JCC. While the Polish side conceded Jewish victims of forced labor a higher amount of compensation, it did not want it to be ‘disproportionately higher than [the amount] for non-Jewish victims’. There was, however, much disagreement on the definition of proportionate.” (p. 84).
GERMANS ATTEMPTED TO DEFINE-AWAY 2/3rds OF THE POLISH SLAVES
The Germans never stopped their tricks, including those that favored Jews over Poles. Note that the vast majority of Jewish forced laborers were in industry. In contrast, Michael G. Esch comments, “Since the program was initially intended to compensate only forced labor in the private industry, while more than two thirds of the 1.9 million surviving Polish forced laborers had been deployed in agriculture…One major issue was that agricultural workers were not recognized as Nazi victims by the German side…” (pp. 132-133).