Magazine article Midstream

Germany's Postwar History and the US-Germany Treaty on Compensation for Holocaust Victims

Magazine article Midstream

Germany's Postwar History and the US-Germany Treaty on Compensation for Holocaust Victims

Article excerpt

As reported in The New York Times (November 19, 2003) and elsewhere, the US Government recently decided to oppose a lawsuit filed by a Holocaust survivor, Simon Rozenkier, against two German pharmaceutical companies for medical experiments performed upon him while a prisoner in Auschwitz and other camps. The US is acting in response to an agreement, signed with Germany in 2000, under which Germany created a very large fund to compensate victims of Nazi slave labor and medical experiments. According to the interpretations of both countries, the agreement requires the US to take actions such as urging its courts to dismiss lawsuits like Rozenkier's whenever there is any legal justification for doing so. Such an action apparently supports the main goal of the agreement which is, in the words of one of the signatories, the establishment of "a quick mechanism for settling claims against Germany in a way that would avoid individualized hearings."

As it works to suppress Mr. Rozenkier's suit, the US might consider two particularly relevant parts of postwar Germany's reaction to its past--payments of huge sums of pension money to former Nazis, including some of the worst criminals of the Third Reich, and the absurd legal process Germany applied to the thousands of war criminals living within its borders, leaving the great majority of them free to enjoy the full protections and benefits of German citizenship. While the US government signed the accord after the general details of this shocking record were available to those who aggressively looked for them, this postwar development is completely unappreciated, and Germany has done its best to keep it that way. But the US has even more reason to hesitate before it recommends dismissal because the individuals who personally tormented Mr. Rozenkier are among those who took especially good advantage of the postwar German attitude toward ex-Nazis.

Chief among the benefactors was SS General Horst Schumann, the high-ranking doctor who sterilized Rozenkier and who was one of the most active and ghoulish experimenters in the Auschwitz camp. He had also performed experiments on German invalids before the war, so he fled to Africa in 1958 when that background was publicized. In 1966, he was extradited back home and put on trial in Hamburg. Several Auschwitz survivors came forward, numbers branded on their arms and their genitals missing or damaged. But the court denied redress. It set Schumann free before his accusers could confront him. He was freed for "health reasons," but Schumann died a full 12 years later, never having spent a day in jail for his crimes. In the guise of aggressive Nazi hunting, Germany had given sanctuary and comfort to a fugitive who treated humans worse than laboratory animals. (1)

Few know about Schumann because of the popular misconception that all Nazi criminals were tried at Nuremberg or fled to South America. But there were thousands who enjoyed similar treatment. (2) Wilhelm Koppe, for example, played a major role in designing and organizing the unbelievably horrifying killing process at the Chelmno extermination camp, a process described in detail by eye witnesses in Claude Lanzman's Holocaust movie, Shoah. But Koppe's trial was dismissed in 1965, as if it was a joke, and he finally passed away in 1975, having enjoyed the prosperous German postwar democracy for a full 30 years. (3)

When Allied troops were within one day of Paris, SS Captain Heinrich Illers, chief of the city's Gestapo, managed to tear a train away from the war effort and use it to dispatch a thousand Jews to Auschwitz. Illers became a high government official of Lower Saxony in postwar Germany, a post he held as late as 1972. He was never even brought to trial, the hundreds of children on his last transport notwithstanding. (4) Another example is SS Colonel Dr. Walter Blume, who commanded a killing squad in Lithuania before his transfer to Athens where he arranged for the deportation of Greek Jews to Auschwitz. …

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