Germany has taken commendable steps to confront its role as the perpetrator of the Holocaust and to ensure that Holocaust victims and their heirs receive restitution and/or compensation. Germany also honors and remembers the victims of the Holocaust and has worked to cultivate a culture of remembrance. Its restitution measures range from compensating former owners and heirs for assets wrongfully seized during the Holocaust to making substantial financial contributions to victims’ funds and survivors’ pensions. From 1945 to 2018, the German government paid approximately $86.8 billion in restitution and compensation to Holocaust victims and their heirs. Germany has also identified Nazi-looted objects – including art works, books, and objects within larger collections – and has returned 16,000 objects to survivors and their heirs over the last 20 years. Thousands more pieces of looted art are still missing worldwide. Rising anti-Semitism throughout Europe including in Germany, and especially in former East Germany, coupled with polls showing the need to increase Holocaust education among Germany’s youth, highlight the importance of Germany’s continued dedication to fostering a culture of remembrance.
Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites
The Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media takes the lead in identifying and funding Holocaust memorial sites and places of remembrance. The Commissioner’s work is guided by the tenet that Nazi crimes against humanity give the federal government and the entire German nation a special responsibility to ensure the constitutionally guaranteed inviolability of the dignity of every person, as well as to stand up against anti-Semitism, discrimination directed at the Roma people, racism, and exclusion. In 2018, there were nearly 5.5 million visitors at federally funded memorial sites.
Both the federal and state governments provide funding to preserve Holocaust memorials, including former concentration camps and Jewish sites of cultural or religious importance. In 2017, the federal government provided a total of $20 million for the maintenance of major Holocaust-related memorials. Individual German states contributed additional funds to these sites. The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe maintains memorials in the center of Berlin dedicated to those persecuted during the Holocaust, including Jews, homosexuals, Sinti, and Roma, as well as victims of Nazi-era “euthanasia” killings. The federal government fully funds the foundation, which received $3.7 million in 2017. In addition, the German Foreign Office by mid-2019 had provided $6.5 million for Holocaust commemoration sites abroad (including Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and Yad Vashem in Israel), as well as Holocaust-related projects, exhibitions, or seminars, including Nazi persecution of Sinti and Roma.
Germany holds numerous annual commemoration events throughout the country at memorials and the sites of former concentration camps. Important remembrance days include International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and Kristallnacht on November 9, the day in 1938 when Nazis destroyed Jewish property and synagogues and arrested tens of thousands of Jews. The German Bundestag holds an annual commemoration event on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, usually with a Holocaust survivor as a guest speaker.
Holocaust remembrance is an integral part of public school education throughout Germany. As part of the curriculum, which is established at the state level, students often visit one of the 12 former concentration camps in Germany that are now Holocaust commemoration sites. Beyond school programs, the government and NGOs host numerous remembrance and education initiatives. For example, Germany’s Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future (EVZ) supports projects and educational initiatives, such as the collection of firsthand accounts by Holocaust survivors in the form of interviews and memoirs, as well as educational seminars and the creation of online resources that teach about Nazi persecution. However, certain challenges in educating the next generation remain. A 2017 Körber Foundation poll found that fewer than half of German children aged 14 to 16 years had heard of Auschwitz-Birkenau, demonstrating the need for continued Holocaust education.
The U.S. Embassy in Germany cooperates closely with several NGOs promoting Holocaust remembrance and education initiatives, including the American Jewish Committee Berlin, the Kreuzberg Initiative against Anti-Semitism, and the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC). ERIAC, which receives $223,000 in annual funding from the German government, promotes Roma contributions to European culture and documents the historical experiences of Roma people in Europe, including their persecution under the Nazi regime.
Germany’s six federally funded political foundations also play an important role in promoting Holocaust education and remembrance. The foundations, each of which is associated with a political party represented in the Bundestag, seek to build upon the principles of liberal democracy and work to foster solidarity and tolerance through their activities. They frequently hold events to examine Germany’s Nazi past, remember the Holocaust’s victims, and work to strengthen Germany’s democratic values.
The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution
Although the ability to file compensation claims under the BEG legislation expired in 1969, the FRG provided funding to the Claims Conference in 1980 for the creation of an additional “Hardship Fund.” The Fund provides one-time payments to Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been forced to emigrate from Soviet bloc countries. During the last decade, the Fund expanded dramatically to make payments to eligible victims residing in Central and Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union. The Fund also recognized the persecution of Jews in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. As of July 2019, more than 521,500 Jewish victims of Nazi persecution had received a one-time payment from the Hardship Fund.
The 1990 treaty uniting Germany obliged the German government to hold negotiations with the Claims Conference on the establishment of new funds for victims of the Nazis who were in need and who had received no or only minimal compensation. In October 1992, Germany agreed to provide funding via what later became known as the “Article 2 Fund.” In 1998, the country established a sister program, the Central and Eastern European Fund (CEEF), for victims living in those areas. Since 1990, these funds enabled pensions for more than 130,000 Holocaust survivors.
In July 2000, an interagency team led by Stuart Eizenstat, Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State on Holocaust-Era Issues, concluded on behalf of the U.S. government an agreement with German industry and the German government for 10 billion DM (approximately $5 billion) to settle class action suits filed against German companies in U.S. courts. This agreement included funds for certain slave laborers (most of whom were Jewish laborers who were worked to death); forced laborers (representing the most extensive payments by Germany to non-Jewish citizens in such countries as Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia); unpaid insurance policies, which were passed through to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC) chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger; and a new foundation to be created with German industry support.
To implement the July 2000 agreement, the German Bundestag established the EVZ. After paying $4.9 billion in lump-sum payments to 1.66 million former forced laborers over the course of seven years, the EVZ concluded its direct compensation activities in 2007.
In 2002, the EVZ paid 550 million DM (approximately $248 million, using 2002 conversion rate) to the ICHEIC to provide compensation for the unpaid Holocaust-era insurance policies issued by German companies. ICHEIC also received funds from settlements with certain non‑German insurance companies. Holocaust survivors and their heirs filed approximately 90,000 insurance claims with ICHEIC, and 48,000 claimants received payments. Many claimants did not know the name of the company that had issued their policy. However, ICHEIC used archival research and matching protocols to identify more than 16,000 of these unnamed claims; companies made payments on about 8,000 of them. In total, ICHEIC made $306 million in payments to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. Humanitarian payments were also made to claimants in cases where no policies could be found.
The EVZ set aside $399 million, yielding capital proceeds of about $8.6 million per year, for the “Future Fund” to finance Holocaust remembrance and educational projects, which was thought to be the fund’s major task when it was created in the July 2000 agreement. In recent years, a significant portion of the funds have been used for projects dealing with human rights issues not related to the Holocaust.
Today, with funding from the German government, the Claims Conference continues to administer approximately 50,000 Article 2 and CEEF pensions, which amount to several hundred million dollars per year to Holocaust survivors in 80 countries. From 2009 to 2019, the Claims Conference has negotiated more than $9 billion in additional compensation with the German government. Regular negotiations between the Claims Conference and the German government have expanded existing programs and introduced additional ones, including a child survivor fund, a Kindertransport fund, and the provision of home care services for elderly survivors. The latter program has been repeatedly expanded: in 2018, the Claims Conference and the German government negotiated an $83 million funding increase, from $452 million to $535 million. In their 2019 negotiations, the German government agreed to an increase, which raised the total funding level for 2020 to $587 million and included for the first time payments to the widowed spouses of recipients of Holocaust survivor pensions.
U.S. Citizen Claims
The deadlines for many of the restitution funds for Holocaust victims expired many years ago. However, victims who have not yet filed claims can still do so for some funds. The Claims Conference serves as the primary partner for Holocaust victims during the filing process, offering assistance free of charge. Moreover, the Claims Conference and the German government work to identify and contact potential claimants.