The demand that is made these days to return Jewish property
left in Europe from before the Holocaust is just. However it is
being pressed in ways that indicate that those who are doing the demanding -
- and they include major secular leaders as well as more
pecuniary-minded lawyers in addition to many genuinely poor and deserving
victims -- have forgotten that the causes of that tragedy were not
erased by the defeat of Nazi Germany. A deep undercurrent of racism is
still present in Europe, as is shown clearly by recent election
results in Switzerland and Austria -- both countries that are
prominent targets of the just Jewish demands.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of the demands are
In many cases they refer to property that is still owned by
as it was taken by hook and by crook. Many of the countries
in less-than-honorable ways during and after the war, and
even acknowledged that they benefited from property that was
from Nazi victims.
Moreover, time is running out for most of the survivors. Many
to live out their remaining years in dignity, and merely
what is rightfully theirs can go a long way to help them.
Yet there is another, important, side to these bloody old
are made in power plays, forcing the European countries to
to them even when they believe that they are exaggerated. The
of state officials across the United States are too strong to
The Europeans feel that they are being brought to their knees
humiliated. The way that the secular Jewish leaders threaten
in the international press also arouses resentment and even
hatred in the European peoples for Jews.
This is no longer speculation. The clear and surprising
of the political right in Switzerland and Austria, only a
are certainly in part due to a backlash against the struggle
property restitution in those countries.
European Jewish leaders have been quietly warning against a
antisemitism due to the strident demands and the way they
The executive director of the French Jewish organization
to the efforts to restore Jewish property to its rightful
the past several years, said, "In the first stages of the
popular feeling in Switzerland was very favorably disposed to
demands of the World Jewish Congress. Afterwards, when the
became more extreme and sanctions were endorsed, this trend
itself. It is impossible to deny that in parallel [with the
there was a rise in Swiss antisemitism. Even more serious is
that there was a very dramatic rise in the willingness to
vent to this antisemitism. Swiss newspapers began to freely
letters columns with letters that were full of classical
complaints and arguments. Did all this contribute to the rise
The humiliation that the Swiss felt they suffered from the
Jewish demands broke all the postwar taboos against open
Who knows where it will lead? Was it worth it?
If concern for the poor victims were paramount, the many
fundraisers could raise substantial sums for them, and they
almost certainly be available much faster than the resources
from unwilling Europeans through legal wrangling.
Our tradition from age-old experience and the wisdom of the
is that loud threats and aggressive pressure tactics against
of the non-Jewish world are inappropriate and out of
our long golus. We work for Moshiach with prayer,
mitzvos, may he come soon.