Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Iyar 5765 - May 18, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Holocaust Claims and Moral Obligations

by HaRav Nachum Diamant

HaRav Abba Berman zt"l, one of the great talmidim of Mirrer Yeshiva, who was niftar this past week, explained that there are two bases for making a claim against another person: you can ask for your own money or property that the other person is holding, or you can ask the other person to fulfill his obligation to pay some money — that happens to be owed to you.

In practical terms it usually does not make a difference whether one is trying to collect a debt because he considers the lender to be holding his money, or if he just considers that the lender has an obligation to pay that he wants to enforce. In either case the bottom line is that he has to bring proof of the loan, either through witnesses or a written contract.

Nonetheless it can make a big moral and philosophical difference which of these approaches is taken. And in different situations only one or the other may apply, and not both. The status of the two can be very different, but they are often confused and conflated.

An illustrated case in point is found in various aspects of financial assets that were lost during the Holocaust and are now being sought by victims or their heirs.

The clearest situation is where the item or property still exists, and was never sold or otherwise legally transferred. A lot of property, such as jewelry, may be difficult to trace, but there are many identifiable works of art, real property including residences, investment property and public buildings such as synagogues and yeshivas. Such property, which was clearly stolen and is still identifiable as property that is still legally and morally Jewish-owned property, has the clearest and most justifiable basis for a suit. The victim has the strongest claim possible: Momoni gabboch — you have my property. Hand it over to me.

Close to this claim (but not quite as sharp) is one based on an insurance policy. In that case there is a valid contract between two parties that establishes a legal right. This too is a demand that is clear and easily understandable by everyone involved: the claimant, the defendants in the suits, and the bystanders who follow the events in the news.

Many of the claims that have been in the news over the past few years are significantly different from these types of claims. General claims for reparations or for compensation for forced labor rendered to businesses or governments do not have the clarity and compulsion of a claim of, "You have my property." Jews are at the forefront of the claims for labor, for example, made on behalf of everyone, but the bulk of the labor was by Russians, Poles and other peoples who were effectively enslaved for several years. Relatively few of the laborers were Jews since they were earmarked for murder. The public sees the claims for labor as a Jewish issue, but really the claimants are overwhelmingly not Jewish. If there is money left over, for example, there is no reason that it should be spent by Jewish organizations.

The least justifiable, and the most difficult to understand for non-Jewish bystanders who just follow the news, is the insistence by some that various groups such as the Vatican acknowledge and apologize for what it did, and for what it did not do, while Hitler was murdering millions.

This is clearly and completely in the realm of telling other people to fulfill their own moral obligations. But this is not our business. We have no need and no gain from such declarations. Our obligations are to ourselves, to Klal Yisroel, and to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We have plenty of work to do in fulfilling those demands and are undoubtedly best advised to stick to them.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.