Friday, November 30, 2018

A Quest for Reparations

By Professor Stanley A. Goldman

This excerpt adapted from Prof. Goldman's new book, Left to the Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Bargain That Broke Adolf Hitler and Saved My Motheroriginally appeared in the Nov. 30, 2018 edition of the Los Angeles and San Francisco Daily Journal. It is available from Amazon and Potomac Books.

In the late 1950s, four decades before the better-known and more all- encompassing German slave labor reparations cases of the late 1990s, a legal brief authored by the Conference on Jewish War Material Claims arrived at the Krupp Corporation. The document included the following allegations: “The firm of Krupp [had] exploited the prisoners’ labor without ever paying them for it, nor did it ever attempt to compensate its forced laborers for the injuries to life, health, freedom, and honor which were sustained,” and demanded that the company provide a financial settlement.

In response, the corporation’s representatives were adamant that any discussions of settlement that they might agree to participate in could not involve possible payments to the heirs of those already deceased, nor would they consider making any charitable contributions on their behalf. Furthermore, perhaps fearing that it could involve tens of millions of dollars in additional payouts, the company took the position that a Conference on Jewish war claims was not empowered to negotiate on behalf of potential gentile, as opposed to Jewish, plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs’ pro bono counsel in the negotiations, Benjamin B. Ferencz, who had been the youngest of the Nuremberg lead prosecutors, was appalled by these pre-negotiation restrictions. Ferencz was particularly eager that formerly subjugated Jews and gentiles should remain unified whenever possible and detested the suggestion that the discussions be limited to only certain former slaves. However, sadly concluding that Krupp would never make payments to non-Jewish victims based on a claim asserted by a Jewish organization, Ferencz agreed to the demands.

Krupp had been quite generous when providing retroactive compensation to his former German employees. In 1953, once he had felt secure at the head of his family business again, he sold off some of his land in order to make good on back payments owed to the company’s pensioners, and Ferencz believed a quick settlement could be reached by requesting a relatively modest sum.

Unfortunately, the very thought of compensation to non-German forced laborers, even in such a minimal amount, was abhorrent to Krupp, and negotiations between his designated agents and the plaintiffs’ Jewish lawyers proved fierce and unpleasant. “Each session was marred by recriminations, accusations of bad faith,” and even with what Ferencz later described as “anti-Semitic remarks” from the corporation’s representatives.

Alfried had spent much of the 1950s denying that he had done any- thing wrong, while simultaneously eliminating the visible evidence and reminders of his crimes. “One by one, Krupp bulldozers leveled most of Alfried’s wartime concentration camps,” with the company typically building new housing developments in their place. It was a time when no one in Germany seemed to talk “about the Jews anymore,” and Krupp’s demolition of the barracks at Neukölln where my mother had labored for him seems to have occurred without comment.

Krupp could deny anything he wanted, but the claim that he had never been responsible for the treatment of his former slave-laborers was, of course, both legally and factually false. Legally, his 1951 early release from confinement had not absolved him from Nuremburg convictions for his use and treatment of slave labor. Factually, it had been proven in court that he had signed detailed contracts giving the SS the authority to supervise and inflict punishment on the forced laborers at his enterprises. He had admitted to having personally inspected the clearly abused and exploited slaves at a number of his factories. It had been on his personal orders that his foreman entered Auschwitz to select laborers fit to work while those rejected were consigned to die in the gas chambers; and it was at his insistence, and over the protests of even other Nazis, that a munitions plant was constructed in Auschwitz itself. In addition, “so shocking” had been the company’s treatment of slave labor that, in the first few years immediately following the war, “all the allies, East and West, were [initially] determined to purge Europe of the Krupp name.”

In the end, Krupp did grudgingly, as a consequence of external pressure, agree to make some payment to each of his surviving Jewish former workers.

On December 23, 1959, a compromise was reached when the corporation agreed that 1,200 (the company’s estimate of the number of claimants) multiplied by just under $1,200 per claimant (for a total close to $1.5 million) would be immediately provided in compensation. The corporation’s representatives also stated that an extra nearly $1 million would be set aside by the company in the unlikely event that their predicted number of survivors proved to be an underestimation as the Claim’s Conference believed it would prove to be.

Alfried seems to have been little affected by the negative foreign comments, such as those of the London Sunday Dispatch, which suggested the meagerness of this settlement should be compared to the enormous wartime profits Krupp had made on “the blood and misery and starvation of . . . Jewish slaves who worked for him during the war.” He also appears to have been confident that he would never have to provide the additional $1 million he had agreed to if more than 1,200 claimants qualified for payment.

In the last months of the war, Krupp’s own squads had dispatched box- car after boxcar of his Jewish workers to various death camps. It would have seemed unlikely to him that as many as 1,200 Jews, no less 2,000, had outlived both their captivity in his factories and the likely death sentence inherent in those spring 1945 transports to extermination camps as well as having had the added good fortune not to have perished in the ensuing fifteen years.

It is possible that Krupp may have lacked an adequate understanding that during the waning weeks of the war “extermination” facilities had no longer been functioning efficiently. The commander at Buchenwald, for example, had refused to accept delivery of any additional Jews, since by the spring of 1945 his underlings no longer had time to murder all of those already in confinement. In the end, more than 7,000 applied for the funds. The vast majority would be disappointed.

Thus, though due to an insufficiency of records due to Krupp having ordered their destruction in the last days of the war, many of the 7,000 petitioners could not sufficiently establish their right to collect, considerably more than the corporation’s estimated 1,200 Jewish survivors would be able to corroborate that they were entitled to the reparations.

Each of the first group of applicants deemed eligible (including my mother) was sent $750, with a few receiving as much as $825, and told that more money would hopefully follow. However, in spite of no fees being charged by the Claims Conference or its attorneys, as more Jewish survivors came forward and had their claims validated, each initial payment was temporarily reduced to $500, and as the number of claimants approved approached the plaintiffs’ original estimate of two thousand, the funds dwindled away, payments had to be stopped until receipt of the anticipated additional $1 million promised. “Claimants could not understand why some of their comrades had been paid while others were told to wait,” writes Ferencz.

As the reserves were running out, the plaintiffs’ attorneys first learned that Krupp would not be contributing the additional money. The corporation’s top representative, who maintained that the original agreement had been merely a gratuitous promise and not a legally binding settlement, not only denied that the agreement required these funds, he also argued that the request itself was precluded by the understanding’s financial limits. Having weathered the worst of the criticism as to the paltry nature of the restitution, as far as he was concerned giving away more money was unlikely to benefit his business. “We do not see ourselves in the position to make further sums available. I therefore do not consider even a discussion of this matter as appropriate,” announced the corporation’s spokesperson.

When confronted with the question of why, if he were not guilty and bore no responsibility, Krupp had paid the $1.5 million in seeming reparations, his representatives continued to claim the payments had simply been a voluntary “sacrifice” made in hopes of healing old wounds. The German populace proved receptive to their popular job creator’s explanation.

Adding insult to the irreparable injury he had caused, when confronted in 1960 by requests for belated compensation from surviving non-Jewish former slave laborers, Krupp responded that he was “unfortunately” unable to provide them with even a token amount.

His excuse, in spite of the entire settlement having cost him a mere one-fifth of 1 percent of his family’s fortune, was that since “so much money has been used to the advantage of the Jews, we are not in a position to make voluntary contributions.”

Thus, in the National Socialist tradition, the explanation given by the richest man in Europe to the gentiles he had forced into the wretched conditions of his slave labor camps was that they were now to receive no compensation because the Jews had taken all the money for themselves.

The founders of the SS might have paid ready homage to their old friend’s logic and tactic. The strategy achieved even more than what it may have set out to accomplish when there emerged palpable anti-Jewish resentment among the non-Jewish forced workers left out of the settlement.

The agreement to pay reparations to Jewish survivors, perhaps as well as the fact that gentile survivors were not to be included, may also have sparked an even more widespread incarnation of the old hatred. It could have been coincidence, but within a month of the announced settlement, “there would be almost 700 reported cases of desecration of Jewish houses of worship and cemeteries [many of which had likely not been used in years] in every state of the Federal Republic of Germany.” During this period, there were accounts of anti-Semitic incidents in “Vienna, Oslo, Antwerp, Brussels, East Berlin, Paris, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Melbourne, London, [and] New York.”

When, in the course of a personal correspondence with Benjamin Ferencz in January 2015, I mentioned to him that my mother had been a beneficiary of his late 1959 negotiations, the still angry ninety-five-year-old responded, “I am honored and pleased that your mother was one of the recipients of the meager sums we managed to squeeze out of the Krupp criminals.”

There was eventually a small measure of ironic justice meted to Alfried Krupp. What constant Allied bombings and conviction at Nuremberg could not achieve, the hubris of his overconfidence would. A series of massive early to mid-1960s business deals in Communist nations proved to be a mistake destined to bring down his empire.

In order to fund its colossal speculations, Krupp had been borrowing heavily against its assets and its future, and by 1966 was unable to meet scheduled interest payments. The creditors were willing to provide assistance on the condition that the Krupp Corporation undergo significant restructuring.

By the close of 1967, the house of Krupp ceased to exist as a private company. Its assets and debts were transformed to a so-called philanthropic foundation. Without Alfried Krupp, the company would manufacture elevator systems, automotive parts, bobsleds, protective glass panels for ice hockey rinks, fireworks, and weaponry, including eventually supplying military submarines and warships to the government of Israel. The last of these business arrangements gave rise to allegations of bribery of officials so highly placed that the Israeli press dubbed the scandal “The Submarine Affair.”

Time brings on all revenges. When it was already clear that his company could no longer survive as he had always known it, the embittered, twice-divorced, increasingly isolated, and unrepentant fifty-nine-year-old was dead. Reportedly succumbing to a cancerous tumor, though there is a certain mystery surrounding the cause of death, the man who had come close to making Adolf Hitler ruler of the world died in the company of only a nurse, with a copy of Mein Kampf on his bedside table.

Stanley A. Goldman is a professor of law and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Law and Genocide at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. This excerpt is adapted from Chapter 13 of Left to the Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Bargain That Broke Adolf Hitler and Saved My Mother and used by permission of Potomac Books. The historical memoir documents evidence uncovered by Goldman that the release of his mother Malka from the Nazi World War II concentration camp at Ravensbrück, Germany was the result of a secret negotiation between a Jewish envoy and Heinrich Himmler, Nazi interior minister and SS head. The epic tale uncovers a piece of history about the undermining of the Nazi regime, the women of the Holocaust and the nuanced relationship between a survivor and her son. More information about the book, which is available now, is at

©2018 by Stanley A. Goldman.

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