Multilateralism, German Foreign Policy, and Central Europe

By Claus Hofhansel | Go to book overview

4

The diplomacy of compensation for Eastern European victims of Nazi crimes

The issue of compensation for Eastern European victims of Nazi crimes has been one of the most emotionally charged issues in German relations with its Central and Eastern European neighbors. For the purposes of this study the key concerns are the use of bilateral versus multilateral compensation agreements and the extent to which German governments followed “generalized principles of conduct” in their compensation policies. The chapter makes three major points. First, although the main compensation agreements benefiting Eastern European victims were not concluded until the 1990s, West Germany established the legal framework for restitution/ compensation payments as far back as the early 1950s, and the principles behind these diplomatic agreements and legislation shaped all subsequent efforts. German policy makers and lawyers distinguished between reparations as payments to other states for war damages and compensation to individuals for crimes characteristic of and unique to the Nazi regime (Wiedergutmachung). 1 The domestic West German Wiedergutmachung legislation in principle limited payments to individuals who had some territorial connection to Germany. This territorial principle resulted in obvious inequities. Virtually all subsequent legislative efforts and diplomatic agreements up through the 1990s can be interpreted as efforts to work around decisions made in the late 1940s and early 1950s in regard to reparations and Wiedergutmachung.

Second, as the evaluation of Nazi policies and general German attitudes toward different groups changed in the 1960s and thereafter, compensation policies changed as well. To provide just one example, whereas in the 1950s German compensation authorities and courts typically denied compensation claims by gypsies/Sinti and Roma because they allegedly had not been systematically persecuted before 1943, German courts began to reverse earlier decisions in the 1960s.

Third, for the most part the compensation agreements which Germany concluded until the late 1990s were bilateral agreements. This changed in 2000 with the agreement on the establishment of a foundation to compensate forced laborers, but even in the case of this agreement the German government initially favored a bilateral agreement with the United States.

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