Based on an Address Delivered in the Knesset on January 9, 1952
Government Information Services, Jerusalem, March 1952
Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members:
Several of my colleagues in the Government, both of my party and of other groups in the Coalition, have taken an active part in this extensive and tense debate. I have no desire to revert to the subjects which they have covered most adequately. I certainly do not intend to dwell on the shameful occurrence which unrolled itself before our eyes both outside this building and on this platform. The deeds done outside and the words spoken inside seem to me simply throes of death - unpleasant to behold and dangerous to those nearby - they are the pangs accompanying the death of a political party and the decline of one who aspired to leadership. I would merely say that there is little danger of the realization of the nightmarish dream cherished by that gang-leader who expected that a return to the technique of bloodletting would avert the death of his disintegrating party and breathe new life into it. Nothing need be added to the Prime Minister’s clear, authoritative and convincing reply to this attack on democracy in Israel and on the status of this parliamentary body.
Ten months ago I spoke from this platform on the question now under discussion. On March 13, 1951, it fell to me to read to this assembly the full text of the Note on reparations from Germany submitted by the Government to the four Occupying Powers. I believe it is fair to say that in the debate that followed there was general agreement as to the propriety and justice of the demand for reparations. It was the timing only that was questioned: had the Government chosen the right moment, or had it neglected earlier opportunities and acted too late? No one disputed the soundness of our basic postulates that we should be paid reparations and that it was our duty to ask for them. Mr. Harari has reminded us that he then foresaw that our demand for reparations would inevitably involve us in direct negotiations with Germany. This is quite true. But he went further and said that for this reason he was already then opposed to our asking for reparations. There I cannot agree with him. Mr. Harari, who is singularly straight-thinking, stood, I think, quite alone in the Knesset At the very most, a tiny minority agreed with him. The great majority endorsed our demand for reparations, though some doubted its practicality. The chief criticism heard in the debate was that we had delayed too long in entering our claim.
That argument has been repeated again and again in the course of the present debate, as well. Rabbi Nurock has voiced his radical opposition to the line of action the Government intends to adopt - the only practical method, we believe, for achieving what we desire. Rabbi Nurock insists that his opposition is the product of profound emotion. But he does not limit himself to these spiritual and emotional causes. I have the greatest respect for the spiritual motives actuating my respected friend, Rabbi Nurock, but he has not remained within the world of the Spirit - he has entered the realm of practical politics. He claims, on the one hand, that we should take nothing from our enemy and should shun every contact with him. On the other hand, however, he too maintains that we have been too late and have missed the best opportunities. We should, he asserts, have presented our claim to the Powers long ago, perhaps on the eve of the Brussels Conference. Had he merely said that his soul was revolted by the very thought of our demanding reparations, I would not have attempted to argue with him. However, when he departs from those moral heights and descends to the level of expediency, I must stop his dangerous descent and place him back on the firm ground of reality!
I am not going into the question as to whether our State was already in existence when the question of reparations was actually decided. Perhaps there may have been opportunities for the State of Israel to press its claims before final decisions were made. If there were such, I shall not here attempt to describe how overwhelmed we were and how preoccupied by other problems. In any event, it is a fact that no political faction in the Knesset or in the Provisional Council of State ever demanded such action at that time. The only voice heard in the Knesset was that of Mr. Wahrhaftig, and he, too, merely raised the question in passing.
I do not wish at this point to take up the cudgels on behalf of the Government. I wish merely to analyze what the results would have been had we acted in this matter at the time now judged correct by these ex-post-facto critics: that is, a short while after the establishment of the State, during the preparations, let us say, for the Brussels Conference which Rabbi Nurock now believes to have been the golden opportunity for advancing our claim. Alternatively, let us assume that even before the establishment of the State we had found some way of presenting our claim for reparations to the Allied Powers on the occasion of the Potsdam or Yalta meetings. What would have happened in either of these cases? I am asking this question on the assumption that the justice, legality and practicability of our demand would have been recognized by the Powers which then set the terms of surrender for Germany. I want to describe the probable course of events after such a hypothetical presentation of our claim.
First of all, we would have been among those states which – automatically - entered into direct contact with the Germans in order to press their just claims. We could by no means have had our cake and eaten it. It would have been impossible to put our claim on the table to be taken up along with all the others, and at the same time to hide behind someone else’s back and ask him to conduct negotiations and collect reparations for us. We would never have been able to get others to work for us while we stood aside and refused to besmirch our hands by contact with the Germans. Who would have been ready to do this for us and why should anyone have felt obliged to do so? Once we asked that our claim be given equal consideration with the claims of others, how could we have stood apart from them? From a simple, practical viewpoint, was it conceivable that anyone could negotiate for us to our satisfaction: if reparations were to be in money or in kind or in both - how much money would we ask and how much in machinery or merchandise and what kind of machinery or merchandise? It is astonishingly naive to suppose that other nations would at one and the same time have recognized our right and relieved us of the burden of implementation, handing us everything we asked on a silver platter.
Rabbi Nurock pointed to the example of Egypt and Pakistan which, without fighting at all, managed to appear as claimants. When I interpolated a question as to how much either of them received, Rabbi Nurock answered that it was the principle, not the sum, that was important. I understand his attitude, but a comparison must be carried to its logical conclusion. Were Egypt and Pakistan included in order that they might avoid all direct contact with the German authorities, whether anti-Nazi or neo-Nazi? Had our right been recognized, we would have been compelled to have direct contact with the Germans. That would have been the first result of the presentation of our claim at that time.
Secondly, we would inevitably have had to agree to the basis on which the Allies founded their claims. That was reparations for war damages. In adopting that approach, we would have misrepresented our case completely. Is it war reparations that we now ask from Germany? It is true enough that we here suffered war damages. As a result of the aerial bombings of Tel Aviv and Haifa houses were ruined, people killed, women widowed and children orphaned. A ship carrying Palestinian Jewish volunteers was sunk on the way to Malta and two hundred of our young men lost their lives, leaving bereaved parents and orphaned children. Our volunteers lost their lives in every sector of the Mediterranean war theatre: their graves are scattered from Tripoli in North Africa to the Persian Gulf, from Eritrea to Northern Italy. Our community suffered other losses, too, during the war. But it was not any of these that shook our world. Our accounts with Hitler are of a totally different nature. For all the losses I have mentioned do not begin to add up to that enormous bill we have to present to the German people, even in matters of property alone. The theft of Jewish property began some years before the war and would have gone on under the Nazi regime, even if there had been no war. Reparations for war damages and compensation for the expropriation of Jewish property are two completely distinct and un- related matters.
Let us imagine for a moment that there had been no war but that a revolution within Germany had overthrown the Hitler regime. Whether the new government was anti-Nazi or neo-Nazi, we would, without doubt, have considered it the heir to the reign of blood, violence and destruction which preceded it. Would we conceivably have given up our claim that the new government restore our stolen property? Would Jewish survivors have yielded that right? Would the Jewish people as a whole? Would the State of Israel which received and absorbed hundreds of thousands of victims of the Nazi reign? To whom would we have turned, if not to the German government? In the event of such an internal German change, we would have had no choice but to enter into direct negotiations with Germany - granted, of course, that we had not decided to give up our claims and leave Germany in undisturbed possession of all she had stolen from us.
There is in fact no connection between our claim and the Second World War. Our claim derives from the spoliation of Jewish property after the murder of these Jews. There can be no atonement for murder, but spoliation and theft can made good. The restitution of stolen property is in a different category from reparations for war damages. It is true that millions were killed and their property stolen, but those dreadful events were not inevitable. They were rather part of a special and separate scheme which the Nazis had set in motion before the war. Had we come to the Allied Powers and pressed our claim in the name of the Jewish people and the State of Israel along the lines the Powers had set, we would with our own hands have obliterated the unique nature of our case and completely perverted the character of our charges against Germany. The truth of the matter is that an attempt to force us into the Procrustean frame of a request for war reparations was actually made by the three Western Powers in their reply of July 5, 1951, several passages of which were included in the Prime Minister's opening statement here. The Powers reminded us that our claim for reparations for war damages had virtually been met, inasmuch as in the final financial arrangements between us and the former Mandatory Government, 300,000 Israel pounds had been allotted to us as our share of the amount assigned to mandated Palestine out of the total war reparations received by the British Empire. In addition, the Note emphasized, Germany had been made responsible for sums of money used to rehabilitate Jewish refugees. It is interesting to point out that those sums amounted in all to eighteen million dollars, divided between the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee. The final and most significant conclusion reached by the Note was that the Allied Powers had already received whatever they could from Germany and could not possibly burden her with further payments: to be sure, the final accounting had not yet been made, but it was quite impossible to predict just when that would be worked out.
Parenthetically, I must here emphasize the fact that the Western Powers were at least frank in telling us what they thought of our claim. The Soviet Union did not even reply to our Note, and to this day we do not know its attitude on the subject. We wrote to the Soviet Government, just as we had written to the other Powers; we waited patiently for its answer, just as we had waited for those of the others. When months passed without any reply being received, we reminded the Soviet Government of the matter both orally and in writing. Again months went by, and again we reminded the Soviet Government, but to no avail - no answer has yet been received.
We did not fail to react to the Allied Note of June 5. We continued the discussion and explained the unique character and scope of our claim. We were not in any sense asking reparations for war damages, nor could we agree to have the settlement of our account delayed indefinitely.
All that has transpired since we presented our claim has shown that not only were we not mistaken in refusing to enter the general category of claimants, but that it was our duty to present our claim separately and in a manner that would emphasize its unique nature.
There would have been a third consequence, had we acted as our critics now advise. The prospects of receiving any sizeable sum would have been nil. If we had put ourselves on the same footing as the other claimants, we would have had to accept not only the basis on which their claims were founded but also the principle they applied to the collection of reparations. That principle, established at Yalta and Potsdam, was that reparations were to be collected out of existing assets, not out of current production. It is not difficult to imagine what would have been the fate of our claim under such conditions. We would have had to enter into a sharp competition with all other claimants for a relatively small share of German assets. We would have received a few crumbs. The Western Powers estimated the war damages at 53 billion dollars. What they actually collected was 500 million dollars - less, that is, than one percent! Nor did this happen because it was impossible to collect more. On the contrary, they deliberately allowed it to happen for reasons of their own. We have heard here that the Soviet still collecting reparations, though the Western Powers have decided to close the account. The Soviet Union’s continued activity could have made no difference to us, but the attitude of the Western Powers would have been decisive as far as we are concerned, had we gone along with them. Can there be even a remote possibility that we would have been accorded exceptional treatment? Would the Western Powers after having finished collecting their own reparations-because they considered it wise to do so-have used their armies of occupation to collect reparations for the Jewish people? They still assert, it is true, that formally they have not yet decided to give up their claims, but all of us know what value attaches in practice to such verbal reservations.
Finally, once we had received these few crumbs allotted to us as one of the partners to the general Allied reparations, our case would have been considered completely and irrevocably closed. We have been criticized here because, in presenting our separate claims, we demanded only a fourth of the estimated property loss suffered by European Jewry. How much smaller our demand would have had to be, had it been presented as one of a number of claims! The amount would have been almost infinitesimal, for we would have had to take our proportionate share of German assets such as they were at the end of the war. It should have been clear from the very beginning that payments to us would be even moderately commensurate with our losses only if they were taken out of current production over a number of years.
Even on the basis of current production we would hardly have reached any satisfactory results, had we presented our claim three or four years ago. Germany at that time wets a ruined land, its economy was shattered, its production very low. On the other hand, by 1951, when we presented our claim, Germany had reached a state of amazing, almost frightening, industrial expansion - an extraordinarily swift increase in production. It was in October - just a few months ago - that the Finance Minister of the Bonn Government stated publicly: “Germany’s economy has never during any previous period progressed so much as during the Bonn regime, nor has any other national economy in Europe developed to the same extent during this time.” The Finance Minister cited striking statistics to prove his point. He pointed out that if Germany’s production in 1936 is put at 100, the level of production was only 58 in 1949, but was 127 in 1951! Production, in other words, had more than doubled in the course of two years. It is worth mentioning that Western Germany’s exports exceeded its imports by an average of 35 million dollars during each of the first ten months of 1951.
I have already pointed out that Mr. Harari was right on one vital point-the inevitability of direct contact. If we want to achieve practical results and not merely indulge in proclamations, we have no choice but to meet the other side face to face at same stage. Just as it is inevitable that in collecting reparations we receive some part of it in the form of merchandise, so we cannot avoid some direct contact with the other side in fixing payments.
Let us assume for the moment that both the Western Powers and the Soviet Union had expressed their readiness to impose on Germany the payment of the reparations we demanded. Even in that case, we would, at some time during the implementation of this decision, have had to enter into direct negotiations with the German authorities. When we had realized that no practical results could be achieved without direct contact with the Germans, would we have given up the attempt to collect reparations? Would Rabbi Nurock have asked the Government to wash its hands of the whole affair after our general claim had been accepted by the other side - only because its implementation depended on our taking an active hand in the collection? Would a practical man like Mr. Rokach - particularly if he were in the Government - have adopted such an unrealistic attitude?
I should really like to ask a question of the members of the General Zionist Party in the Knesset-men of action and experience, all of them. Did they not realize that either nothing at all would come of it - and then the question of direct negotiations would not arise - or that we would arrive at some tangible results and would then unavoidably have to have contact with the Bonn Government. If the General Zionists understood this simple truth, why did they never speak up? Why did they not oppose the presentation of the claim? Was it because they then had hopes of entering the Government? However, as they kept silent at that time, what moral right have they now to oppose direct negotiations? I speak of moral right because this is far from being merely a practical question. It is they who emphasize the moral aspect. But what sort of morality is it that permits them to ask others to do things they are not prepared to do themselves? Is it right to demand of others that they help us achieve our aim while we are not prepared to lift a finger in that cause? How is one to describe this sort of morality? The essential question is whether the action is permissible. If it is, then it is permissible at first hand too. If it is not, then it is equally forbidden at second and third hand.
He who asks others for help and wants to put pressure upon them must be prepared to do his own part. You cannot demand of other people to do the dirty work for you while you keep your hands lily-white and retire into the rarified atmosphere of an exalted morality.
I would appeal to Members of the Knesset to realize that both the practical and the moral issues involved in this question were settled long ago by a clear decision in favor of direct contact with the Germans - in order to save what can still be saved of the Jewish possessions expropriated by the Nazis. Several of my colleagues have touched on this matter, but I shall take the liberty of presenting you a fuller and more accurate picture.
As soon as Hitler’s regime was overthrown and the few that had survived the great slaughter began to come out of their hiding places, comprehensive and systematic activities were undertaken to secure the restoration of the stolen property and the payment of reparations.
The first points on the agenda were the claims of individuals. Where the property was still in existence and the owner still alive, was he not to claim it? In cases where the property was still there but the owners were dead, were not their heirs entitled to claim it? It might be regarded as a purely personal concern, but the Jewish organizations dealing with refugee relief - the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency and others - held that it was a Jewish communal responsibility to see to it that such individual claims were met by the Germans. This could only be achieved by legislative measures and to secure their enactment obviously called for a concerted effort.
The second problem was that of property to which there were no heirs and claimants. The organization felt strongly that this property should be restored to the Jewish community - that is to the organizations acting for it. Some measures of legislation were clearly necessary to make this possible.
At the beginning, these efforts met with .a measure of success. The Jewish organizations approached both the Eastern and Western Occupation Powers. The Western Powers alone responded. They enacted a number of decrees on the restoration of Jewish property. The American authorities were the most active in this field: the British and French followed in their wake but their steps were not equally effective in all respects.
These regulations enacted by the Military Authorities were subsequently endorsed by legislative measures adopted by several - not all - of the parliaments of Western Germany. These parliaments then passed a number of laws dealing with individual reparations to various types of victims of the Nazi regime.
During the early stages, these Jewish organizations were in contact exclusively with the Allied Occupation Authorities. In the course of time, however, there occurred two significant developments. The organizations found themselves more and more compelled to make contact with the German authorities in order to secure results. In the second place, the powers exercised by the Occupation Powers came to be progressively transferred to the Germans, so that Jewish organizations had, in ever increasing measure, to deal with the latter. Legislative and administrative difficulties and defects became the subject of direct negotiations between the Jewish organizations and the central and regional governments in Western Germany. The Jewish organizations might have decided to suspend their activities on behalf of Jewish reparations, as soon as authority passed to the Germans. They might have made up their minds to be content with what they had secured through the agency of the Occupation Powers, and not to turn to the German administrations on any matter whatsoever. They did nothing of the sort, but dealt with those in whose power it lay to satisfy the claims of Jews.
The legislation enacted during this period dealt only with identifiable property - a small fraction of what had been stolen and destroyed by the Nazis in Germany and throughout Europe. The value of even this fraction, of course, amounts to huge sums. The laws provided that the property must be restored to its owner if he is dead, to his heirs; and if these too cannot be traced, to a recognized Jewish organization. This organization was also to inherit the property of Jewish communities that had ceased to exist.
What is this organization? In the American zone it is called the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (IRSO). It represents the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish World Congress, the Agudat Israel World Organization, a number of prominent Jewish bodies in England and America, as well as representative bodies of Jewish emigrants from Germany. In the British zone there is a parallel organization known as the Jewish Trust Corporation in which also the Jewish Agency participates, as does the JDC, the Jewish Congress, the Agudat Israel and several central British Jewish organizations. The board of IRSO sits in New York, and that of JTC in London. An attempt is now being made to set up a similar organization in the French zone, with its Board of Directors in Paris. The Executive Council of IRSO, which is composed equally of representatives of the Jewish Agency and the JDC, has its seat in Germany, where it has been functioning for three and a half years with a staff of scores of employees. IRSO’s chief contact is with the Occupation authorities, but whenever the exigencies of its work so require it negotiates directly with the German Federal and local authorities.
Rabbi Nurock, this body is doing all its work also in your name. For IRSO acts for the Mizrachi which is part of the World Zionist Organization and of which you are a member. IRSO acts in your name, too, representatives of Agudat Israel and Agudat Israel Workers! The World Agudat Israel Organization of which you are all members, shares responsibility for its activities. And, Mapam members of the Knesset, you too are represented in it, through your membership in the Jewish Agency. Representatives of yours sit on the Agency Executive both in Jerusalem and New York. Surely they must have discussed these matters. Surely you must know of them. If you disapprove, why has your disapproval not been expressed in the General Council of the World Zionist Organization or the Zionist Congress? Your representatives sit on the Executive of that body both in New York and in Jerusalem. Was all this not known to the Mizrachi and Agudat Israel members of the Knesset? I am not addressing these questions to the General Zionist members, as I am not sure as to what extent they cooperate in the work of the World Zionist Organization and Zionist Congress.
I have not come to upbraid those who are engaged in this work. On the contrary: my best wishes go out to all who have taken upon themselves the great and noble work of restoring the stolen Jewish property to its rightful owners, individuals and Organizations. All strength to them for what they have achieved and all good wishes to them for the success of their endeavors!
Parenthetically, I wish here to reemphasize the fact that all this activity goes on only in Western Germany. Nothing at all is being done in this respect in Eastern Germany. A Jewish survivor whose property was expropriated in Munich or Cologne or West Berlin has good prospects of having it restored to him - if the property is of the type covered by the present legislation. Many such persons have already had their property restituted to them. The same applies to property in West Berlin. It does not apply to a Jew who lost his property in East Berlin or Leipzig or elsewhere in Eastern Germany. He has no one to turn to and no Jewish Organization to help him. To be sure, he is thereby saved from direct contact with Germans - Eastern Germany has accomplished that for us by simply turning a deaf ear to every Jewish claim, whether made by an individual, group or organization. Jewish property in Eastern Germany is fated to remain in the hands of those who stole it.
In Western Germany the process of restitution goes on steadily. The staff working for the Jewish Agency and JDC carries out all the necessary activities involved in selling the recovered property and transferring the proceeds. Some examples of this should be quoted here, even as Mr. Rokach gave us examples from the history of Tel Aviv and Netanya.
What actually happens when a Jew has his house restored to him? What can he do with a house in Germany? Take the case of German Jews living in Israel and not intending to return to Germany, whose houses are restored to them. Had they come here in normal circumstances, they would have sold their houses and invested the proceeds in Israel. Are they to abandon their newly recovered possessions? What are they to do with the German marks they receive in respect of their lost property or by way of compensation for imprisonment or physical harm inflicted by the Nazis?
It is self-evident that the only solution for
them is to use their marks to buy commodities they can use or sell in Israel.
In one case out of a hundred a Jew may get back industrial equipment which once
belonged to him and will bring it to Israel for use here. In
the other ninety-nine cases, he converts his property into money and buys
machines and other commodities for his own use or - as will happen in most
cases - for sale in Israel. Members of kibbutzim solve the problem very simply:
they buy tractors and other agricultural machinery for their settlements. Other
Jews receive money for their property, buy goods for it and then sell them
here. Why this elementary thing - money - should suddenly become an object of
contempt and derision to some people here - the General Zionists of all people
- I fail to understand. Money, in this connection, means machines, raw
materials, useful commodities, houses for new immigrants, pipes to irrigate the
Early in 1950 I was most courteously invited to
visit Netanya by that energetic gentleman, the mayor of the town, who is a respected
member of the General Zionist party. Among other things, Mr. Ben-Ami showed me
the new industrial zone where a number of factories are now in operation.
Building had just then begun there, and among the piles of cement and bricks
near the tents and huts, machines and stocks of raw material were scattered.
These had been brought by immigrants from
And as for Tel Aviv, I know of a small factory in its vicinity, doing valuable work, which is completely equipped with German machines. The owner happens to be a member of the General Zionist Party. A German Jew living here had returned to Germany to get back his property, had then sold it, bought machinery with the proceeds and sold the machinery here to the General Zionist owner of that factory near Tel Aviv.
Was this accomplished through the collection of damages for property or was it not? Was it morally wrong to do this?
Do members of kibbutzim refuse to accept compensation in cases where their parents or relatives were liquidated and the family property is extant in Western Germany? Actually, their kibbutzim send them to Germany and, like all other individuals, they apply to IRSO or JTC for help in disposing of the property and arranging for the transfer of the commodities bought with its proceeds. In helping them, those organizations must, of course, have direct contact with the German authorities. And when the members of these kibbutzim bring back with them tractors, machines, cement mixers, prefabricated houses - are they sinning against Jewish ethics or are they doing their duty as Zionists by bringing equipment into the country and helping to absorb immigrants? Is it only members of Mapai who go to Western Germany for this purpose, while members of Mapam boycott this neo-Nazi region and wait patiently for permission to travel to Eastern Germany and collect reparations for whatever property of theirs is there? As it happens, both members of Mapai and members of Mapam go to Western Germany and both groups hope for the day when Eastern Germany will permit the restitution of stolen Jewish property and they will be able to go there and attend to the matter. But who knows when that will be. For the time being none may enter or leave Eastern Germany.
There remains, however, the question whether by all these arrangements our material account with Western Germany is settled. Are the claims of the Jewish people as a whole, or even of individuals, being really satisfied? Thus far damages have been collected from, and property restored by, the various State governments, though these processes involved constant contact with the Federal Government at Bonn. What of the claims which, by their very nature, can be presented only in Bonn? The Hitler regime once imposed a collective fine - the Judenabgabe - on all the Jews in Germany. It also imposed a special exit tax on all Jews who managed to leave Germany before the War - the “Reichsfluchtsteuer”. There are Jews still alive who paid these taxes at the time; there are others who paid them, but died subsequently, and whose heirs now claim the refund of these payments. Then there are the Jewish organizations which received the property of heirless Jews. The claim for restitution in all these cases can only be presented to the Federal Government at Bonn, as it is the legal successor to the Hitler regime in Western Germany. Even if Israel’s claim for reparations had not been presented in March 1951, the Jewish organizations involved would inevitably in the course of their work have presented these claims to the authorities in Bonn, with whom they had already made contact during previous stages of their activities.
Over and above all these claims, there is still a great, untouched account to be settled. For the Jewish organizations to which I referred have dealt only with the claims of specific individuals or with claims relating to special categories of property. There remains the vast amount of property stolen, from many thousands of anonymous Jews who were murdered - property that cannot be identified or even remembered, that has simply vanished. Compensation for all this can be demanded only by the Jewish People as a whole, or by the State that is entitled to speak in its name. The State of Israel bases its claim on the half-million refugees from the Nazi terror whom it rescued and rehabilitated in this country - at its own expense - and that of Jews throughout the world. This large-scale claim can obviously be presented only to the central German Government, the heir to the Third Reich. When we attempted to present it to the Occupation Powers, we were directed to the interested party - the German Government.
We are being warned not to forgive the Germans or their unspeakable deeds. But shall we on that account give up our claim for the restitution of Jewish property? Where is the line to be drawn between the ethical and unethical? Why should it be right to reclaim tangible and identifiable property and wrong to claim compensation for property of other categories? Why should it be permissible for an heir to receive and sell his father’s property, buy machines or materials for it and bring them to Israel, while Jewry as a whole, or the State of Israel, is adjured not to accept compensation for the property of those who have perished without heirs? At what point does the permissible become forbidden?
Who knows how much of that vast mass of stolen property might not under normal circumstances, have flowed to this country and been applied to the reclamation of its waste lands and resettlement of Jewish refugees? Why should it be forbidden us to receive compensation for that lost Jewish property and apply it to the ends it might otherwise have served? Does it not seem doubly meritorious to do this after all the murder and destruction? Is it not our sacred duty to rescue whatever is still obtainable, to bring it here and turn it to creative uses? Our doors are wide open to every Jew who comes here stripped of all he once had: they should be open too for the restoration of the possessions of those whose lives were cut short before they could bring them here themselves.
And if there is no other way of recovering this property except by negotiation with the heirs of the robbers, or even with the robbers themselves, then it is not merely permissible but our bounden duty to enter into such negotiations.
Let us assume for the moment that World War II had never taken place but that great masses of European Jewry had been despoiled and massacred by the Nazis. Upon its establishment, the State of Israel might then have found the survivors imprisoned in concentration camps, and the only way of securing their release might have been that of direct negotiations with our bloodstained enemy. Would we not have done so? Would we have abandoned European Jewry to further slaughter and imprisonment simply in order that our hands might not be polluted by contact with the German Government? But now it is not Hitler who heads the German Government and the negotiations would deal with the property of slaughtered millions; shall we abandon that property because we are afraid of polluting ourselves by contact with them?
Let us consider the question realistically and without exploiting in demagogic fashion the emotions of those to whom it is difficult to form an opinion on so complex a subject. Many here have taken it upon themselves to speak in the name of the dead. May I be permitted to say that, in our relations to the dead, we are all equal: their memory is sacred to all of us? In a public discussion of this kind there can be no distinction between those who themselves lost members of their families and those who did not. Even among those who are bereaved there are differences of opinion in this matter. Is it not perfectly possible, too, that the dead, had they been asked before their end, would have commanded us not to give up their claims but to rescue their possessions from the hands of their murderers and use it, in their memory, for the rebuilding of the State of Israel? I have spoken with average individuals in the country whose property was expropriated by the Germans and who lost parents, brothers and sisters at Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, or Treblinka. They said: “What is all the discussion about? Get back whatever you can - you have our blessing.” I have discussed this problem in a public meeting attended by a great number of Israeli citizens, most of them new immigrants, many of them survivors of the Nazi holocaust. Not one of those present objected or protested. The only opposition came from a megaphone of an opposition party. I am opposed on principle to public plebiscites on complex political issues, but I feel certain that if a plebiscite were held on this question, the majority of our citizens would