The Grasshopper and the AntGeorge Brewer
Currently there are renewed demands, largely by some ethnic groups in the United States, to get the Federal Republic of Germany’s private sector to pay compensation to an unknown number of individuals who were forced into labor during World War Two. The current German offer of three and a half billion dollars has been dismissed by the plaintiff’s lawyers as "Peanuts."
Meanwhile, other groups have bought inflammatory ads in the New York Times arguing, grotesquely and inaccurately, that Josef Mengele had something to do with Bayer aspirin. "I was counting on the money," one elderly woman was recorded as saying, "I need it for my grand-daughter’s college education."
I am sure that most of us consider the idea of compensation for forced labor just, in the abstract. But what many do not know are the details that make this most recent request for compensation seem less like a reasonable demand for closure than an extortionate threat for ransom. What the agitprop tends to leave out is the fact that the Germans have already paid. And paid. And paid.
First, they lost the war—fifty-five years ago. Most of the valuables in the eastern sector of the country, including most of the industrial plant that wasn’t destroyed by bombs, was dismantled and taken by the Soviet Union. This was only after they had raped on the order of two million German women and stolen every wristwatch in sight.
In the meantime, the Germans had to contend with over ten million displaced persons, mostly women, children, and the elderly, who were expelled from property that had been in their families for hundreds of years, so that their lands could be nationalized and re-parceled by the new Poland and Czechoslovakia.
The Soviets also deported hundreds of thousands of civilians, including hundreds of thousands of German women, to the GULAG where they were forced to work like drones for years to rebuild the Soviet industrial base. In addition, of course, all of the victorious Allies used hundreds of thousands of German POW’s for slave labor for years after the end of hostilities. The Soviets were the worst; some German prisoners were forced to labor until 1955, ten years after the war was finished! None of these Germans ever received compensation for their looted art, their stolen homes, or their ruined lives. That’s what happens when you lose.
The West likes to salve its conscience over these atrocities by reference to the Marshall Plan, that infusion of capital that helped get Germany and Europe back on its feet. But the idea that the Marshall Plan was a gimme for the German people is a myth. Those Germans living in the Western half of Germany were the sole recipients of Marshall Plan aid; those in the East got nothing and suffered a second catastrophe under the Soviet tyranny. And then the French, English, and Italians all received more Marshall-Plan money than the Germans.
In addition, Germany repaid its total loan of $1.4 billion, something the other nations never even attempted, a fact that has gone down the memory hole. And on top of that, the Germans entered into a long-term commitment to compensate the Jewish people for their suffering in the war that has totaled to date over $100 billion (billion!) Marks, with another $30 billion in commitments that extend well into the next century.
The reward to the Germans, most of whom were born after the Second World War ended, for all of this hard work, is to be asked to pay up again and again and again. It’s really a very 20th Century story, a sort of rewrite of the Grasshopper and the Ant, in which the hardworking ant survives the winter because of his own labor and planning, while the frivolous grasshopper freezes in the snow. In our modern version, however, the ant, enriched by its own labor, is charged with having no right to its wealth.
No one is going to pretend that the recent spate of lawsuits comes from anywhere other than from the spectacular success of Jewish groups in getting the Swiss government to fork over $1.25 billion in "compensation", which is about $1 billion more than the Swiss actually owed anyone. Abe Foxman of The ADL registered his concern over the price that might have to be paid for "bludgeoning" the Swiss into submission, while Holocaust maven Raul Hilberg objected to the "extortion" tactics used.
But these reservations aside, what the Swiss affair demonstrated, once again, is that victim politics brings in big bucks, and that’s the real background to the latest move against the Germans. Of course, in perspective, the claimants don’t have quite the moral high ground that they claim: the fathers and grandfathers of today’s Germans lost as much as anyone else in the war; they too suffered the sting of forced labor, starvation, and ruined childhoods, and now they and their children have already paid and paid.
When the war ended, and the tyranny that had betrayed the German people was destroyed, Germans bit their lips and went back to work. Maybe that tells us something about Germans, as a people. In my own German family, when misfortune or tragedy struck, you put the past behind you, you got down, and you worked. You didn’t make demands on others, or try to invent ways to make others do your work for you. That would have been considered an admission of weakness. It would have suggested a lack of self-respect.
Installed: 07/22/00, 3: 30 PM, EST