Germanys full debt to the survivors remains unpaid

On Sunday Jews around the world will honor those who perished and suffered in the Holocaust during Yom HaShoah observances. And for many aging survivors, bitter memories will be punctuated by growing resentment and frustration over Germany's outrageous eligibility requirements governing the current system of reparation payments.

Survivors are well aware that in recent months the world's media has devoted considerable attention to the Holocaust, focusing on Switzerland and the Nazi plunder of gold, property, artwork and other valuables. All agree that these are historic developments, which they applaud and support.

But they also stress another point: As these stories continue to unfold and take center stage, it must not be forgotten that first and foremost the Holocaust was an unrelenting war of annihilation directed against the Jews.

It was conceived, designed, orchestrated and implemented by the Third Reich, the predecessor to the present German government. The systematic chain of events that began with discrimination and persecution as a prelude to physical destruction was done with state sanction under full color of German law.

While there were certainly no shortage of willing collaborators from many nations, and while the Nazis had many accomplices — including "neutrals" who were anything but — principal responsibility for the Shoah lies squarely with Germany.

In 1951 Konrad Adenauer, West Germany's first chancellor, acknowledged his country's responsibility for making reparation payments to victims of the Nazi regime. "In our name, unspeakable crimes have been committed and they demand restitution, both moral and material, for the persons and properties of the Jews who have been so seriously harmed," he said.

Successive German leaders have echoed those lofty words, proclaiming Germany's solemn obligation to compensate the victims of the Holocaust.

Never is an opportunity missed to extol the virtues of German "generosity" and kindness toward survivors. Germany's debt, we have been led to believe, has been paid in full.

However, as far too many survivors are painfully aware, nothing could be further from the truth.

There are more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors, in the final phases of their lives, who have received nothing or next to nothing. And, unless things change dramatically, they will never receive anything.

They have again become victims of the German state, as they find themselves subjected to a series of offensive and unacceptable conditions and restrictions governing eligibility for reparations.

Some of the most egregious examples:

*Only persons confined in concentration camps, as restrictively defined by Germany — for six months or longer, or in ghettos for 18 months or longer — are eligible.

To require six or 18 months of living hell is obscene. The Germans should be ashamed of themselves.

*Potential recipients must establish that they live virtually at the poverty level in order to be eligible.

What a grotesque distortion of the basis of reparations, which are paid to provide some level of compensation for the horrors inflicted on them in the name of the German state and German people! The Germans had no means test for persecution and murder, only for compensation.

Providing recompense to victims is not an act of benevolence. It is payment on a debt that, sadly, could never be fully paid. By turning the reparations program into one of charity, the Germans are trying to create the impression that it is being admirably benevolent. In truth, it is heaping insult upon injury.

To further pour salt in the wound, the same German government that imposes such obnoxious requirements on survivors has no qualms or means test when it comes to paying generous pensions to SS and Gestapo veterans — including some living in the United States.

To date, good faith efforts by survivors to resolve these and other concerns have met German resistance.

But there is escalating outrage over Germany's hard-line attitude and its transparent effort to delay as long as possible taking any serious steps to rectify the situation. One can only conclude that the German government is hoping for a "biological" solution to the problem.

Such an approach is unacceptable. It flies in the face of repeated proclamations by Germany's leaders that post-war Germany will never shirk its moral obligation to Holocaust survivors. Germany's moral obligation cannot be satisfied as long as a single Holocaust survivor is denied reparations.

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of survivors, including many in the United States, remain ineligible because of the offensive restrictions.

Unless and until these requirements are abolished and all survivors are justly compensated, Germany's debt will remain unpaid.