Dignity, Hatred and Memory - Reparations from Germany: The Debates in the 1950s
At the end of the war, when the enormity of the Holocaust was revealed, Jews responded with hatred of the Germans and a desire for revenge. The Jewish Agency, as well as individuals, claimed global compensation for the crimes committed against the Jewish people. However, Zionist policy makers regarded establishment of the Jewish state as the top priority. Following the birth of Israel, “lack of contact” with Germany was the binding principle. Economic difficulties in Israel could be helped by reparations, but such a concession was considered a loss of dignity. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s 1951 declaration to “redress the wrong” opened the way for limited Israel–German reparations negotiations and made it possible for Germany to return to the community of civilized nations. In 1952 after heated, even violent, discussions, Ben-Gurion’s Mapai-led Knesset narrowly passed a bill authorizing reparations from Germany. The opposition, spearheaded by Menachem Begin’s Herut Party, included both left- and right-wingers, who called for revenge and considered rapprochement with Germany to be amoral. Ben-Gurion’s and Mapai’s pragmatic approach called for reparations to build and strengthen the nascent country and did not consider it an insult to Jewish dignity. All political parties and ideologies harnessed remembrance of the Holocaust to their political platforms.