In a landmark process that transformed global reparations after the Holocaust, Germany created the largest sustained redress program in history, amounting to more than $60 billion. When human rights violations are presented primarily in material terms, acknowledging an indemnity claim becomes one way for a victim to be recognized. At the same time, indemnifications provoke a number of difficult questions about how suffering and loss can be measured: How much is an individual life worth? How much or what kind of violence merits compensation? What is "financial pain," and what does it mean to monetize "concentration camp survivor syndrome"?
Susan Slyomovics explores this and other compensation programs, both those past and those that might exist in the future, through the lens of anthropological and human rights discourse. How to account for variation in German reparations and French restitution directed solely at Algerian Jewry for Vichy-era losses? Do crimes of colonialism merit reparations? How might reparations models apply to the modern-day conflict in Israel and Palestine? The author points to the examples of her grandmother and mother, Czechoslovakian Jews who survived the Auschwitz, Plaszow, and Markkleeberg camps together but disagreed about applying for the post-World War II Wiedergutmachung ("to make good again") reparation programs. Slyomovics maintains that we can use the legacies of German reparations to reconsider approaches to reparations in the future, and the result is an investigation of practical implications, complicated by the difficult legal, ethnographic, and personal questions that reparations inevitably prompt.
Susan Slyomovics is Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also author of The Object of Memory: Arab and Jew Narrate the Palestinian Village and The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco, and coeditor of Women and Power in the Middle East, all available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
"How to Accept German Reparations is a fascinating read, with insights on reparations, mourning, and memory that far transcend the particular instance of the Holocaust. Anyone interested in these issues, no matter where they apply, should read this book."—Human Rights Quarterly
"[An] idiosyncratic, far-ranging, well written book. . . . This is several thoughtful books in one."—Lora Wildenthal, German History
"This remarkable book is a deeply anthropological study of a problem that reaches back into the author's own familial past and connects it with an astonishing but entirely persuasive array of themes, including agency, victimhood, nationalism, racism, and religion. Slyomovics's measured, graceful prose undoes the false simplicities of attributing right and wrong-locating the book securely at the heart of what social anthropology is all about."—Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University