Correspondence Between the Foreign Ministry Legal Advisor
and the Foreign Minister ,1-2.9.1952
This is a very interesting excerpt from the book
* * *
The Question of the Credentials of the Signatory to the Reparations Agreement
To: Minister of Foreign Affairs, personal
From: Shabtai Rosen
I am deeply concerned at the thought that it is you who will be traveling to sign the reparations agreement. I view this as being beneath the dignity of the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and something that might tarnish the name of Moshe Sharett in the future.
I also do not view this matter as obliging Adenauer to sign on behalf of his government. This cannot affect the implementation of the agreement.
It is therefore my duty to you to request that you reconsider this matter as you may reach the conclusion that no intrinsic damage will be caused should the heads of the delegations sign the agreement instead of the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs and the German chancellor.
Please forgive my candor,
To: Attorney General
From: Minister of Foreign Affairs
I herewith respond to the serious doubts you have raised regarding the wisdom of the government’s decision that the Minister of Foreign Affairs should sign the reparations agreement with West Germany on behalf of the State of Israel, when the cosignatory is the leader of the Bonn government.
I could dismiss your concerns by stating the fact that the matter has been decided and brought to the attention of the other party, and published in the press with no denials, and in a situation such as this no self-respecting government would disavow and withdraw the matter for re-discussion, and all the more so if this means forcing the other party to repudiate its decision and compelling it to re-discuss the entire matter.
The fact of the matter is that I must unequivocally set before you all the binding circumstances of the matter and totally reject your assumption – which I can only view as extremely odd – whereby in the present situation we can allow ourselves to consider reversing our decision, and as if changing the procedure decided upon by mutual consent is now “practical policy”.
With all due respect to the considerations and reasoning that motivated you to voice your request, and while morally and politically they cannot be refuted by stating the facts alone, from the practical aspect your request was made at least ten days too late. However, it still merits a response.
You base your opposition first and foremost on moral reasoning: in your opinion it is beneath my dignity to sign the agreement with the Germans.
I reject the morality of this reasoning with all the powers of persuasion I have at my disposal. One or the other: either the entire matter of the reparations is moral, for if submitting the claim mandates negotiations and the signing of an agreement, then conducting negotiations and signing the agreement are similarly moral; if the matter is immoral, then the claim should not have been made and in any case we should not have had contacts with them and signed. If my basic assumption is correct – and it is the only one on which dealing with this matter can be based – in other words, that the claim is intrinsically moral and thus the morality of all the conclusions and results derived from it, then not only am I permitted to sign but also [President] Chaim Weizmann, and the question of the signatory’s credentials and status in the governmental hierarchy is purely a practical one.
In any event, I totally reject the logic of the assumption implicit in your letter, that I am permitted to send to the negotiations trusted colleagues whom I respect no less than any of us, and also to evade the duty of leading them when political circumstances mandate it.
Your concern over my reputation is both touching and dear to me – just as dear as your awareness of and sensitivity to the moral quality of Israel’s public appearances – but I must set your mind at rest. Should the verdict of history go against the whole reparations affair, then I have tainted myself to such a degree that my non-participation in the signing ceremony would not mitigate my sentence. On the other hand, should history justify my actions then not only would my signature not spoil things, it would become a link in the chain and serve as an appropriate conclusion to an unvarying and consistent episode.
I can only conclude one of two things from your words: either you do not wholeheartedly support the entire matter, or you are remiss in your attitude towards it in an overly fastidious manner, which in my view is completely un-statesmanlike and embodies a clear element of Diaspora sentimentality.
With regard to the seemingly practical reasoning to which you subscribe, viz., that Adenauer’s signature cannot affect the implementation of the agreement, I beg to differ. None of us can guess how much longer Adenauer will head the Bonn government. Even if he does not have much longer due to his age – either in government or in general – even if he remains in his post for only another two or three years, those years are likely to determine a great deal in the course of the implementation of the agreement. And even if he departs, and after his departure, then the weight of his signature cannot be compared, as far as his colleagues, his party and the entire German public, in and outside Germany are concerned, with the weight of the signature of Prof. Böhm or someone similar.
But this is not only a question of the importance of Adenauer’s signature because of the obligation it places on the other party. There is also the matter of justice with regard to Adenauer himself. He views the obligation that Germany is taking upon itself with the reparations agreement as a historic step unprecedented in the history of civilized peoples, just as there was no precedent – of shame and disgrace – for the massacre of the Jews and all the abhorrent acts of the Hitler regime. One cannot dispute the justness of this claim. But if it is just, then it is to Adenauer’s personal credit that Germany is now taking this step, and so Adenauer deserves this historical credit by signing personally. To deprive him of this would be an ignoble, narrow-minded act, lacking a sense of history on our part – or it would spoil things by relegating our own participation at the signing ceremony from the previously decided level.
You might be surprised to hear me cite reasons such as these of the duty of mutual respect – and even the duty of nobleness – with respect to a German chancellor. But in my opinion only this can be the approach of the independent State of Israel, which from the historical and moral standpoints was founded on the ruins of the Nazi regime and redeemed the honor of the Jewish people, which that regime profaned. The fear of taking such a step in our relations with Germany returns us to a status that belongs in the past – the status of a people lacking the capacity of statehood and exempt from state considerations, a people secluded within its four walls, mourning its past, praying for its future and resolving the problem of its present relations with other nations by silently abhorring them. A nation must face its future, while its present relations burden it with practical obligations it is an honor to shoulder, because others bear these burdens with regard to it.
We must educate the people towards this new perception of our honor, but first we must educate ourselves.