Paying for the Past by Christian Pross
The Struggle over Reparations for Surviving Victims of the Nazi Terror

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"In countries just emerging from dictatorships, societies have been looking to history for models of reparations and justice for the victims. German reparations for the victims of Nazism represents both a model and a warning."—from the Preface

In the aftermath of World War II, a defeated Nazi Germany hoped to ignore concentration camp survivors. But the Western Allies, the newly established Israeli government, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany defended the rights of Jews who had survived the Holocaust and of the relatives of those who had been murdered. International treaties enacted by these groups forced the Federal Republic of Germany to financially compensate the victims for stolen property as well as for damage to physical and mental health and livelihood.

In Paying for the Past, physician and historian Christian Pross untangles the complicated history of reparations in West Germany, from the American military government's 1947 Law Number 59 (Restitution of Property Stolen in the Course of the "Aryanization of the Economy") to West Germany's Federal Restitution Law of 1957 and into the 1970s. When first published in German in 1988, Pross's landmark research caused a furor because it exposed the hostility of the West German people and the bitter political opposition within the government toward reparations legislation and the Holocaust victims seeking restitution. One of Pross's most disturbing discoveries was that victims were frequently retraumatized by the reparations process itself. Some were forced to undergo medical and psychological examination by dozens of physicians in order to substantiate their claims of abuse. Many more had claims still pending after twenty years of waiting.

Paying for the Past uncovers the inconsistencies, distortions, superficialities, and veiled anti-Semitic attitudes of West Germany's official version of its reparations history. Pross brings to light the government's continuous resistance to reparations and allows those who challenged this official reluctance to finally speak. Through victims' statements and numerous eyewitness accounts, the book also unblinkingly documents the crimes for which victims demanded restitution. Finally available in English, this edition of Paying for the Past contains a new preface by the author and an afterword by medical ethicist Erich Loewy which places the ethical issues raised by the West German experiences with reparations into an international context.

 

About Christian Pross

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Dr. Christian Pross is the medical director of the Center for the Treatment of Torture Victims in Berlin, Germany, and coauthor (with Götz Aly and Peter Chroust) of Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, also available from Johns Hopkins.
 
Published June 25, 1998 by Johns Hopkins University Press. 296 pages
Genres: History, Travel. Non-fiction

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Publishers Weekly

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A reparations process intended to benefit the victims of atrocities can end up harming the survivors it was intended to benefit.

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