By John Dunkelgrün.
The Hague proudly calls itself the International City of Peace and Justice. For over a century it has been the home of the International Court of Justice and the Peace Palace. It is home to the ICC, the ICJ, the OPCW, and many other international organisations and conferences.
Several years ago, Rabbi Katzmann of the orthodox Jewish Community in The Hague initiated the idea that this City of Peace and Justice should commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a UN designated day to remember and learn from the horrors of the Shoah. Together with the City of The Hague, the Embassy of Israel and the The Hague Jewish Cultural organization CHAJ, he established International Holocaust Remembrance Day The Hague, which each year plans a conference in the Academy Hall of the Peace Palace.
The IHRD-TH conferences would focus on the influence of the Holocaust on international law and justice. This year, the third in the series, the subject of the conference was “compensation”, with a keynote speech by Stuart E. Eisenstat, special advisor to the White House on Holocaust issues, and former US ambassador to the EU. There were speeches by Mr Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, President of the ICJ, Mr Jan Van Zanen, the mayor of The Hague, Mrs Marion Ein Lewin, and Rabbi Katzmann. Of course this year the conference had to be digital. The advantage of this, is that one can still view it on Youtube (IHRD The Hague 2021).
On March 21st it will be 70 years since the establishment of the “Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany”. The Conference followed an agreement between Conrad Adenauer, then Chancellor of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland and Mr Nahum Goldman, President of the International Jewish Congress, in which Mr Adenauer declared that Germany, then the Bundesrepublik, bore material and moral responsibility for the misdeeds of its predecessor, Nazi Germany.
The Dutch Government then hosted a conference in Kasteel Oud Wassenaar between representatives of the Claims Conference, the State of Israel, and the Bundesrepublik. Initially this conference was met with much opposition both in Israel and in Germany. Six short years after the war, emotions still ran very deep.
The first days, even weeks, the atmosphere was chilly, even though the German representatives were known to have been actively anti Nazi. However over the many months that followed, once the others started to trust that the German delegation genuinely wanted to find an equitable solution, a good working relationship developed. In the end an agreement was reached (and signed in Luxemburg) in which Germany agreed to pay compensation to individual Holocaust victims and to the State of Israel for settling half a million Holocaust refugees.
It was recognised by all parties that any reparation payments would be symbolic as the true suffering, material, personal and psychological, could never be compensated.
According to the agreement, the Bunderrepublik committed to supply the State of Israel with goods and services valuing 3.5 billion marks over a period of 12 years. Part of the agreement was the German assurance to enable personal reparations too, as well as the return of property to its legal owners. In order to follow through on this agenda, an additional sum of 450 million marks was promised.
The significance of this conference on international law is immense. For the first time in history a nation admitted liability for crimes against individuals and undertook to compensate them. For the first time too, a nation undertook to compensate a state that didn’t even exist at the time of the crimes. For (I think) the first time a state negotiated a major agreement with an international NGO.
This conference, aptly held on the outskirts of what was later to be called the City of Peace and Justice heralded an important step in the direction of a world directed by the rule of law.
Please watch the videos on Youtube: