Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Under the terms of the Luxembourg Agreements, West Germany agreed to pay $865 million to Israel for damages suffered by the Jewish community under National Socialist rule. However, the government of East Germany refused to assume any responsibility or to participate in the negotiations.

Summary of Event

Before World War II was concluded, plans were being made for restitution demands that the Jewish people would make to Germany for the property that had been taken by the Nazis. Jews;in Nazi Germany[Nazi Germany] Nazism;Holocaust Upon the defeat of Nazi Germany and the revelation of the extent of the Holocaust, these demands were presented to the victors. On September 20, 1945, the first official claim for restitution of property and indemnification was brought to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union on behalf of the Jewish people by Chaim Weizmann. This claim demanded the return of Jewish property that had been stolen by the Nazi regime as well as the rehabilitation of Nazi victims, including payments to the Jewish Agency for Palestine Jewish Agency for Palestine and Jewish survivors to advance their resettlement in Palestine. Israel;as Jewish homeland[Jewish] The Western powers responded to this claim by enacting legislation in their respective zones for the return of Jewish real estate. Once the state of Israel was created in 1948, it was apparent that the Jewish state, along with major world Jewish organizations, would be the bodies to submit restitution claims on behalf of the Jewish victims of the Nazi state. Israel;reparations Germany;reparations Luxembourg Agreements of 1952 Reparations Agreement Between Israel and West Germany (1952) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];reparations Israel;relations with West Germany [kw]Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel (Sept. 10, 1952) [kw]Reparations to Israel, Germany Agrees to Pay (Sept. 10, 1952) [kw]Israel, Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to (Sept. 10, 1952) Israel;reparations Germany;reparations Luxembourg Agreements of 1952 Reparations Agreement Between Israel and West Germany (1952) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];reparations Israel;relations with West Germany [g]Europe;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [g]Middle East;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [g]Luxembourg;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [g]Germany;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [g]Israel;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations to Israel[03870] [c]World War II;Sept. 10, 1952: Germany Agrees to Pay Reparations toIsrael[03870] Weizmann, Chaim Adenauer, Konrad Goldmann, Nahum Begin, Menachem Ben-Gurion, David Sharett,Moshe

In addition to murdering six million Jews, the German Nazi regime systematically looted Jews of their possessions. This photograph displays a collection of wedding rings removed by the Germans from victims of the Holocaust.

(National Archives)

In January of 1951, the government of Israel submitted a note of restitution of Jewish property and indemnification to the four occupying powers. The note stated that the previous legislation was incomplete and demanded that it be expanded and that the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) share in the financial responsibility. Another note followed in March and became the cornerstone for the eventual reparations agreement. This note stated that the state of Israel had absorbed 500,000 Jews who had been the victims of Nazi persecution and that West Germany should pay for the resettlement costs at the rate of three thousand dollars per person. The note also emphasized that there was no amount of material indemnification that could make up for the crime of genocide. The Soviet Union did not respond to either communication, and the Western powers responded cautiously, stating that the settlement of the reparations issue would have to be negotiated directly by Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany.

These diplomatic notes from Israel were passed to the Federal Republic of Germany by the occupying powers. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer decided to respond to them despite the fact that they were not addressed to the Federal Republic of Germany. At a meeting of the Bundestag on September 27, 1951, Adenauer declared that the Federal Republic was prepared to begin discussions relating to material reparations with the state of Israel and the representatives of World Jewry. He stated that in the name of the German people, “unspeakable crimes” had been committed that obliged Germany to make “both moral and material” amends for the harm that had been done to the Jews. With this declaration, the Federal Republic of Germany assumed responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich. Adenauer emphasized that there were limits to how far the Federal Republic could go given its economic situation.

On October 26, 1951, Dr. Nahum Goldmann called together a group of twenty-two Jewish organizations at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, whereupon they founded the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany which became known as the Claims Conference. Claims Conference This organization was created to pursue the material claims of the Jewish world. The Claims Conference represented a global claim based primarily on the issue of heirless assets. However, the Claims Conference also included the significant issue of the costs faced by Jewish organizations in resettling Jewish refugees and in rebuilding Jewish communities outside Israel that had been destroyed by the Nazis. As late as 1950, there were still tens of thousands of people throughout Europe who were housed in camps for displaced persons. The Claims Conference also made the decision to give priority to individual claims, although they were willing to make some concessions on the global claim in order to facilitate those individual cases.

The reparations issue became a controversial and divisive topic in Israel. Many were opposed to the negotiations with the Federal Republic of Germany. Some believed that the settlement talks should be held with the Allied powers, not with West Germany, believing that the Federal Republic was insincere in its actions and was simply using negotiations with Israel to gain readmittance to the European community. Others believed that to negotiate with the Federal Republic was to allow that nation essentially to buy forgiveness for the horrendous acts of the Nazis. Nevertheless, Premier David Ben-Gurion believed that negotiations with the Federal Republic constituted the correct course of action, because West Germany would then be the source of the financial reparations necessary to rehabilitate the survivors and achieve the goals of the Claims Conference. Despite violent demonstrations by protesters, in January of 1952 Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approved the government motion to enter into direct negotiations with the Federal Republic of Germany with a vote of 61 to 50.

Negotiations began on March 21, 1952, in the Netherlands and included representatives from the Federal Republic of Germany, Israel, and the Claims Conference. On September 10, after months of negotiations that had stalled and appeared at times to be at the brink of collapse, Chancellor Adenauer and Israeli foreign minister Moshe Sharett met in Luxembourg to sign the reparations agreements between the two nations. These agreements, known as the Luxembourg Agreements, went into force on March 27, 1953. Under the terms set forth in the agreements, West Germany would pay Israel, in the form of goods over a period of twelve to fourteen years, the sum of $845 million, of which $110 million would be forwarded to the Claims Conference. The funds allocated to the Claims Conference were to be used to assist Jewish communities, institutions, and organizations to reestablish themselves.

Significance

The Luxembourg Agreements were a fundamental step in West Germany’s attempt to move the new Germany away from the Nazi legacy and one of the cornerstones in a future relationship between Germany and the Jewish people. Directly following the Luxembourg meeting, West Germany adopted a restitution law to indemnify individual Jews for suffering and loss of property, and payments under this law would continue into the twenty-first century. The Federal Republic carried out the reparations agreement fully, and the reparations were a significant contribution to Israel’s economy, aiding in the development and survival of the new state. The funds allocated to the Claims Conference were used to assist hundreds of Jewish communities, institutions, and organizations in rebuilding and reestablishing themselves. Financial assistance also provided for educational services, such as Holocaust studies and documentation, and for cultural rehabilitation.

The original agreements were expanded by various amendments in the following years in order to widen the definition of those who were entitled to receive restitution. Ultimately, West Germany paid a significantly higher sum than the original agreements required. In stark contrast, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) refused to recognize the right of the Jews to restitution and indemnification. Victims of the Holocaust who continued to live within the borders of East Germany were compensated as “victims of Nazis,” but the East German government denied any responsibility for the crimes of the Third Reich.

Payments to the state of Israel officially ended in 1965. In that year, the states of Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany agreed to establish diplomatic relations. Israel;reparations Germany;reparations Luxembourg Agreements of 1952 Reparations Agreement Between Israel and West Germany (1952) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];reparations Israel;relations with West Germany

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York: Macmillan, 1990. Treats the reparations and restitution in a concise, informative narrative. Contains bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Helig, Karen. “From the Luxembourg Agreement to Today: Representing a People.” Berkeley Journal of International Law 20, no. 2 (2002): 176-196. Contains detailed discussion of the Claims Conference and the implementation of the Luxembourg Agreements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Honig, Frederick. “The Reparations Agreement Between Israel and the Federal Repulic of Germany.” American Journal of International Law 48, no. 4 (October, 1954): 564-578. Discussion of the uniqueness of the reparations agreements in the context of diplomatic history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laqueur, Walter, ed. The Holocaust Encyclopedia. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Provides a thorough treatment of the reparations process from the earliest stages. Contains excellent coverage of the cultural side of the issue.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Niewyk, Donald, and Francis Nicosia. The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Contains a useful time line of the reparations process.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sagi, Nana. German Reparations: A History of the Negotiations. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A thorough examination of the entire reparations process, including the amendments and expansion of the original agreement. Also deals with specific legislation in West Germany.

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