Forgive me for sounding chutzpadik, but I can’t help but feel that when it comes to reparations from WWII, we Jews are on the wrong track. Last week, representatives for Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, France’s state-owned railway company, more commonly known as SNCF agreed to pay Holocaust survivors $100,000 along with tens of thousands of dollars to their spouses as reparations for the role the SNCF played in deportation of French Jews. In exchange for its “guilt-gelt”, any black marks in SNFC’s past will be expunged, as it proceeds to bid for lucrative high speed rail contracts as well as other projects, here in the United States.
I’m afraid we’ve missed the boat in our negotiations with SNCF, just as we’ve missed the boat in any and all negotiations we’ve been involved in with European governments and companies ever since the end of the war. Time after time, we’ve portrayed ourselves as victims. Without fail, our attitude has been, “look what you’ve done to me”. Excuse me! We Jews don’t play the role of victim. The moment we start playing the role of victim, we might as well don Burqas and Kaifiyas. Financial compensation is just, but woefully inadequate. If we truly believe in reparation, then we should consider the following three paths:
Holocaust Memorials are indispensable. We Jews should feel grateful whenever and wherever a Holocaust Memorial is built in a European city. But Holocaust Memorials portray Jews as victims. Lobbying and funding ought to be undertaken, so that European countries that participated in genocide against Jews, create and introduce curricula into schools, where students will learn about Jews, in the very best sense. Students should be made aware of great Jewish philosophers and physicians. Students should learn about Jewish inventors and patriots. Let students come to understand how Israel, a nascent country no less, built itself up from ashes to become a world leader without any Marshall Plan. Let German and French and Greek school children associate Jews with success instead of suffering; let Polish and Romanian and Hungarian school children see Jews as victors and not victims.
As a child, I remember going to a major department store solely because it was featuring an “Israel Week”. Sure it was an advertising ploy! But Jaffa oranges and Gottex swimwear and Sussita automobiles left an indelible impression on me. If the United States can have Black History Month, then European countries can most certainly have an Israel week. Let the Lithuanians learn what became of a people they didn’t succeed in destroying.
The days of oy-vey handwringing are over. That’s not us! That’s our grandparent’s generation. We are the generation of “take a good look at what we are able to achieve. And had it not been for your willingness to go along with the nightmare of eradicating Jews off the face of this earth, you too could be living the dream with Jews of Poland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Greece working magic for your country”.
Up until now, any Jew who has set foot on the blood-stained earth of his ancestral homeland has done so with the attitude of “this is the last place on earth I want to be”. Up until now, any Jew who has returned to his European roots has usually done so by himself, pretty much the same way one would visit a grave at a cemetery. The time has come for us to make it back to Europe in bus-loads, preferably luxury coaches. Let us be clad in our finest clothing, bedecked with jewelry, with smiles ear to ear. Let us share success story after success story with our European hosts. We’ll do our crying in the privacy of our own homes. In front of the descendants of those with Jewish blood on their hands, let us instead display our very best. Let the descendants of those who showed complicity at best, see what became of the descendants of those who witnessed the very worst. Only then, will full reparations have been made.