Friday, March 16, 2012

Holocaust conference emphasizes restitution

By Nick Neely, News Reporter

Pacific Lutheran University’s fifth annual Holocaust Conference took a different turn last Thursday. Instead of focusing on the horrors of the Holocaust, the keystone speaker discussed what happened after.

Northwestern University’s Chair of Holocaust Studies Peter Hayes delivered the speech titled What Took So Long? The Wrangle over Restitution since 1945.

The keynote speech touched on processes by which governments compensated their Jewish populations after World War II.

“By 1998, the total payout by the German federal and state government, by the terms of the compensation laws, [was] 106 billion deutschmarks,” Hayes said.

Jews struggle to receive compensation for what happened during World War II for many reasons. One reason, Hayes said, was a lack of understanding after the war of what Jewish people had gone through.

Two hundred billion dollars’ worth of property was taken from the Jewish people during Hitler’s control in Germany.

“Amidst the seemingly endless devastation and suffering, people could not recognize the distinctness and extremity of what Hitler had done to Europe’s Jews,” Hayes said.

When this was compounded by the German government’s need to recompense more privileged citizens, Hayes said, it caused the needs of the Jewish people to be a low priority.

“Almost every form of egress extended by West Germany to the Jews in the post-war period occurred in response to outside pressure,” Hayes said. “Germans agreed to compensation payments only when the political price of not doing so seemed to exceed the economic cost.”

The only way for the Jewish people at that time to seek compensation from Germany was to file a claim with their own government and have their government seek compensation, which usually ended in very little to no compensation given, Hayes said.

The speech went on to discuss the many different way Jews sought compensation and how each country separately handled compensating their Jewish population for property lost and time spent abused by the Nazi regime.

The first- and second-place winners of the Holocaust essay contest, history and political science major junior Cole Peterson and religion and history major sophomore Julia Walsh, also spoke.

Each of the Holocaust essay contestants discussed the subject of their respective essays.

“Recent historical inquiry has uncovered that not only were the German people far more knowledgeable on the Holocaust than was actually understood, but actually played an active role in supporting their government’s campaign of mass murder,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s essay discussed the part the German populace played in Germany’s Nazi regime.

“Why would a nation comprised of civilized people tolerate genocide?” Peterson asked the crowd during his address.

The German population suffered from “human weakness” and was unable and unwilling to face the atrocities of the Holocaust, Peterson said.

“Had the German people acted on the information they had on the holocaust, and intervened in the final solution, the Nazi’s deranged scheme to obliterate Jews would have been substantially frustrated,” Peterson said.

Second prize winner Julia Walsh’s essay studied Jewish poems and stories written inside the concentration camps.

“I wanted to understand how people processed horror creatively,” Walsh said.

Walsh said she wanted to know how the Holocaust, through these writings, spoke to the hearts and minds of those not directly involved in the Holocaust.

“They articulate, in a literary way, what the Holocaust continues to teach us,” Walsh said.