Before going into this post, I want to make it clear that this post is specifically about accountability and reparations to Jewish People.
Romani People were also targeted for genocide during the Holocaust. As such, they also deserve reparations and accountability, but that is not my post to make. Please uplift Romani voices in Holocaust discussions.
WHAT WAS LOST (LIVES)
Prior to the Holocaust, there were 9.5 million Jews living in Europe. 6 million of them were murdered in the Holocaust.
Thousands more died in North Africa and the Middle East (Southwest Asia).
Poland had the largest Jewish population in the world at the time at 3.3 million. 3 million of those Jews were murdered.
Not only were millions of Jews killed, but millions of Jewish futures were also destroyed. To this day — 76 years after the liberation of Auschwitz — there are less Jews in the world than there were prior to WWII.
In 2009, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem study estimated that, had the Holocaust never happened, there could be 32 million Jews in the world today. Instead, there are only ~14.5 million of us.
There is no amount of money or accountability that can ever make up for this.
WHAT WAS LOST (CULTURE)
It’s impossible to calculate the loss of culture due to the Holocaust. For example, prior to WWII, 11 million people spoke Yiddish. Yiddish had a flourishing cultural scene, with literature, theatre, and more. Today, only between 500,000 to 1 million people speak Yiddish. Thankfully, in recent years, there’s been a Yiddish cultural revival.
Entire communities were also almost fully destroyed — from Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Eastern Europe to the ancient Romaniote Jewish community of Greece.
With the destruction of these communities, so many things were lost: dialects and languages, traditions, and more.
WHAT WAS LOST (ASSETS)
In 2005, an Israeli government report estimated that Holocaust “damages” add up to $240-330 billion.
This includes the value of looted and plundered property, lost wages, unpaid wages for slave labor, and more.
It’s estimated that the unpaid wages of Jewish slave labor during the Holocaust add up to $11-52 billion.
After the war, no more than 20% of these looted assets (both private and communal) were returned to their rightful owners.
After the Holocaust, many Jews who tried to recover their properties and assets were murdered in cold blood, particularly in Poland.
Since the end of the Holocaust, reparations have been a contentious issue. Many Holocaust survivors viewed reparations as “blood money,” particularly in the years right after the war.
In 1952, Israel and West Germany signed a reparations agreement. Though many Israelis vehemently opposed it, Israel was in severe dept after the War of Independence and absorbing over a million Holocaust and North African and West Asian Jewish refugees.
41% of this money is supposed to be allocated to Israeli Holocaust survivors. However, the money is funneled through an agency and survivors — many of whom live in poverty — haven’t received what was promised to them.
In 1951, the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) was established to represent Holocaust survivors in negotiating reparations with Germany.
The Claims Conference has repeatedly been accused of incompetence, corruption, and more. Survivors haven’t received more than a few thousand dollars over their lifetimes, if that.
In 2006, a report concluded that only 9000 survivors received any welfare assistance via the Claims Conference.
In 2005, 60 years after the end of the war, Austria finally agreed to pay reparations.
Other countries have refused to pay reparations or have severely limited and inaccessible programs, even though they profited off stolen Jewish wealth.
This part of this post is strictly my opinion. I’m a third-generation Holocaust survivor, but I speak only for myself. Jews are not a monolith and neither are survivors and their descendants.
It’s also important to understand that the Holocaust was only possible due to widespread and systemic collaboration in Axis-occupied territories.
To take accountability all of these countries must first acknowledge not only their wrongdoing during the Holocaust, but also the 2000 years of systemic and institutional antisemitism that made the Holocaust a possibility in the first place. The Catholic Church, Red Cross, and other such institutions should also take accountability.
How can they do this?
(1) education. Antisemitism education — real, honest education that addresses 2000 years of violent antisemitism and collaboration with the Nazis — is crucial. Many of these countries are actively trying to bury their past, and the younger generations are not learning the truth.
(2) stop profiting off Holocaust tourism.
(3) provide better quality of living for their Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in poverty and require emergency aid.
(4) invest in the preservation of their flailing Jewish communities.
(5) return assets and properties to their rightful owners/families if at all possible. If not, compensate them accordingly.