By Mark Weber
Since 1951 Germany has paid more than 102 billion marks, about $61.8 billion at 1998 exchange rates, in federal government reparation payments to Israel and Third Reich victims. In addition, Germans have paid out billions in private and other public funds, including about 75 million marks ($49 million) by German firms in compensation to wartime forced laborers, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported recently. These figures are based on calculations by the German Finance Ministry, the influential paper said.
Of the total, Germany has paid out 78.4 billion marks ($47 billion) on the basis of the 1965 Federal Restitution Law (BEG) to persons, especially Jews, who had been persecuted during the Third Reich era on the basis of race, religion, origin or ideology.
While most of those who were alive during the Second World War are now dead, in recent years Germany was still paying out some 1.25 billion marks (about $75 million) to 106,000 pensioners in Israel, the United States and other countries on the basis of the 1965 Restitution Law.
A substantial portion of Germany’s reparations payments have been to the “Jewish Claims Conference” for Jews who had persecuted by the Third Reich. Recipients include former forced laborers and concentration camp internees, as well as individuals deprived of rights or property under the Nazis. Based in New York City, the Jewish Claims Conference (JCC) has operated for decades as a kind of supra-national governmental agency for Jews around the world.
Between 1992 and July 1998, the German federal government paid out 1.1 billion marks (about $647 million) to the JCC. During the first half of 1998, it made available 378 million marks (about $222 million) to the JCC in special one-time restitution payments for Jews who had persecuted by the Third Reich, according to a German government report issued on September 29, 1998. The JCC distributed up to 5,000 marks each to individual claimants.
In recent years Germany has paid out nearly 1.8 billion marks on the basis of special bilateral agreements concluded in 1991 and 1993 with Poland and three successor states of the former Soviet Union – the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus (White Russia) – even though in 1953 Poland and the Soviet Union each renounced any further reparations payments from Germany.
Because there’s no sign that German reparations payments will stop anytime soon, the Welt am Sonntag wonders if they might be “bottomless.” In coming years, Finance Ministry specialists estimate, Germany will pay out an additional 24 billion marks (about $14.4 billion at a recent exchange rate) in Third Reich reparations.