What happens to the Next Generation of Refugees?
PART 6: German Restitution Policies
A Series Written By of a Child of 2 German Jewish Refugees,
by Rick Landman - October 28, 2014
Wiedergutmachung (reparations or restitution) is a word I remember from my childhood. I now know that not all Germans were Nazis. But all Germans (then and now) participated in the restitution to Jews. Historical Note: Hitler got 36.8% of the votes or 13,418,547 people, and lost out to Paul von Hindenburg with 53.0% of the vote or 19,359,983 people. Hitler then maneuvered himself into power with the help of violent thugs of the S.A.)
Back then my family had many discussions as to whether to even accept the money. After a while it was decided that they would, but much of it was spent on my brother and I to be able to go to a fancy Jewish summer camp in the Catskills.
Ever since the end of World War II Germany has accepted responsibility for the actions of the Nazis and gave financial reparations to their surviving Jewish citizens. Actually, they even gave the next generation back their right to be a German citizen. For example, my father (and grandfather) lost their German citizenship with the Nuremberg Laws in 1935. So their offspring lost their right to be a German. They restored this right to me, and in 2007 I accepted it. So now I am a dual American and German citizen. My German citizenship is mostly symbolic, and I restored it as a way of accepting their recognition of trying to make amends.
To this day many of that generation of surviving Jews are getting a pension and restitution from Germany and the Claims Conference being funded mostly by Germans who were not even alive during the Nazi era. To me, this shows the earnest feeling of accountability and making amends.
This was part of the reason why I became proud of my German roots and explored the lives of my German ancestors and the contributions that they gave to German society for centuries before the Nazi era. Remember all countries go through periods of time that their descendants might consider shameful. But at least Germany (and Austria) has tried to make amends to their refugees. That is part of the reason that I marched in a Jewish contingent in the German-American Steuben Parade for 5 years.
I can understand why Jews with ancestors who left Poland, Russia, Hungary, etc. feel very little pride in their heritage. But maybe that is because German Jews were full citizens in Germany; and in some cases felt more German than Jewish. It is a hard thing to understand when your ancestral home turns the most horrific for 12 years and kills your family. But after 70 years, and with a broader scope of historical view, and seeing the restitution and accountability and rebirth of a strong Jewish community in Germany today, I came to this perspective.