Constantin Goschler. Schuld und Schulden: Die Politik der Wiedergutmachung für NS-Verfolgte seit 1945. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2005. 543 S. EUR 38.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-89244-868-6.
Reviewed by Christiane Wilke (Department of Law, Carleton University)
Published on H-German (April, 2007)
Guilt, Responsibility, and the Search for Eligible Victims
Monetary reparations have become part of the political repertoire for addressing massive injustices. Reparations programs for victims of abuses in countries such South Africa, Chile, and Peru give expression to societal perceptions of past injustices, victims, and the meaning of material reparations. Reparations have varied between material and symbolic components and they have been tailored to fit collective as well as individual claims. Likewise, German reparations policies for victims of Nazi injustices have changed remarkably over time. In his comprehensive account of German reparations politics, Constantin Goschler conceptualizes the purpose of reparations politics as the conversion of guilt into debts (pp.8-9). According to Goschler, the mode of converting moral guilt into policies directed at compensating victims varies with the actors' perceptions of past injustices, visions of justice and political leverage.
German reparations politics for Nazi injustices, Goschler shows, were always based on particular perceptions of the injustices and their victims (p. 59). Which acts exceeded the hardships of war and could be considered "normal" injustices that therefore do not deserve additional political attention? Different actors in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) found a variety of answers to these questions. These different conceptualizations of the injustices were the bases on which actors responded to demands for recognition and monetary reparations. Persons who had been persecuted for "asocial conduct" or homosexual activities, for example, were not recognized as victims in the first decades of the reparations schemes (p. 486). Likewise, both states were reluctant to recognize and compensate victims who lived beyond their own borders. Thus, prior social marginalization of victim groups and the compartmentalization of political processes into separate nation-states have left deep imprints on reparations policies. Both exclusionary trends, however, have been increasingly questioned and partially revised since the 1980s.
The FRG and the GDR developed strikingly different reparations policies in response to the same set of injustices. These differences were rooted in the modes of policy making as well as in dominant ideas about the past and the future: the political and social elites in both states developed different accounts of which Nazi policies constituted injustices worth compensating. Both states deemed different groups eligible for recognized victim status. While the GDR focused on communist victims and preferred "fighters" over passive victims, the FRG emphasized Jewish victims and excluded some communist victims from the compensation schemes (p. 192). The social and political visions of those who negotiated and decided on reparations also determined the scale and shape of reparations policies. FRG policies were aimed at restoring property and compensating for damaged careers, while GDR policies honored victims as heroes of "anti-fascist resistance" and thus as ideational precursors of the state. FRG reparations policies sympathized with victims, who were understood as external to the nation proper. The GDR, in turn, identified with victims and used them as a source of national identity. Goschler's detailed study of FRG reparations policies traces the origin of "Wiedergutmachung" to discussions among German emigrants in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In a fascinating chapter on the little-known intellectual precursors of the reparations policies, Goschler sketches the experiences, views, and visions of those who first thought about demanding reparations for the considerable injustices the Nazis inflicted upon different social groups (p. 57). This chapter allows the most sustained and surprising glimpses at the mindsets of the people behind reparations demands and policies.
Goschler carefully traces and explains the shifts in attitudes and policies from the "discourse of guilt" in the 1950s, the desire for legal and political closure of the 1960s, to the rising public interest in victims and reparations in the 1980s and 1990s. Reparations policies for victims of Nazi injustices were dealt with separately from customary inter-state reparations for war-related damages soon after 1945. The link between individual reparations and state reparations was not completely severed: in the 1950s, the FRG concluded a number of treaties with Israel and western European countries that channeled payments to individual victims through "their" respective governments. The exclusion of eastern European victims from many compensation schemes dates back to this time. Such exclusion was politically possible because of the Cold War, but it was also financially attractive and buttressed by the idea that victims should make claims through "their" governments. When the first FRG reparations policies were initiated, individual and collective reparations were widely seen as preconditions for the FRG's full sovereignty and international respectability. The wider public viewed these policies as externally imposed obligations necessary for the international rehabilitation of the FRG (p. 174).
Goschler's interest in tracing the conversion of guilt into debts, or of moral demands into legal and monetary demands, allows the reader to see the now-familiar succession of reparations treaties and policies as something other than a "natural" response to Nazi injustices. Especially in the chapter summaries, Goschler draws the reader's attention to the moral grammar underlying different claims and responses. These fascinating insights into the context of reparations politics would have been even more valuable if they had been accompanied by more sustained and lengthy analysis of the changes in the cultural and social environments that fed the political process of drafting and negotiating reparations policies. What, for example, happened between 1953--when the argument that only 700 out of 42,000 surviving inmates of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp would be eligible for compensation was the key point of new reparations legislation (p. 193)--and the 1980s, when different political parties took up the plight of the "forgotten victims" as an important part of their agendas? How do the political and social identities of those who oppose or embrace reparations politics change? Goschler advocates and promises an approach that combines political history with cultural history (p. 28), but his own observations about cultural changes sometimes appear disjointed from other sections, which trace policy developments with admirable detail. This study of policy is interwoven with discussion of collective identities and raises further questions about the context and implementation of reparations policies (p. 475).
This volume is a thorough, illuminating account of German reparations politics from 1945 to 2000. It incorporates the international and transnational dimensions of the policies and politics of reparations and prompts further questions at the intersections between politics, perceptions of injustice, and visions of justice. It is not only a valuable study of the subject in the context of German history, but it should also be of interest to scholars and practitioners of reparations policies in general.
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Christiane Wilke. Review of Goschler, Constantin, Schuld und Schulden: Die Politik der Wiedergutmachung für NS-Verfolgte seit 1945.
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