Finding the balance between justice and revenge is always difficult, as is determining at what point, if ever, a wrongdoing should be forgiven, if not forgotten.
The current controversy over the decision by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), which supports hundreds of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, to honor a senior vice president of Allianz North America, whose parent insurance company had close ties with Nazi Germany, renews a contentious, old debate. As Staff Writer Stewart Ain reports on the front page this week, Holocaust survivors themselves are bitterly divided over the issue. Some say the planned Dec. 3 affair should be canceled unless another honoree is chosen, asserting that JFR is bringing dishonor to the memory of the Holocaust victims by accepting funds from a senior Allianz official. Defenders of the decision say Peter Lefkin, the designated honoree, is a deserving ally of the Jewish community, and that almost seven decades after the end of World War II, a new generation should be able to move on in recognizing people for their own merits rather than tying them to the past.
We are reminded of the bitter, even violent dispute in Israel’s early days of statehood when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion negotiated reparations from Germany and was opposed by Menachem Begin, who called the funds “blood money” that should be refused.
In hindsight, it would appear that the billions of dollars Israel received was of great help to the struggling Jewish state, while recognizing the emotions involved so soon after the Holocaust. Indeed, Germany has become one of Israel’s most important political and business allies.
One possible compromise now would be for JFR, whose mandate includes “preserving the legacy” of the rescue work of the Righteous Gentiles through “a national educational program,” to launch a project that would trace the sins of the fathers in the Allianz story as well as the good works of those who have sought to make amends more recently.
But it seems clear that debates like the one over Allianz will go on as long as there are Holocaust survivors who remember the negative associations all too well.