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Adenauer on Time Mag. cover Konrad Adenauer, Jan. 1954

The Relationship between
Germany and Israel

Book Essay on: George Lavy, Germany and Israel: Moral Debt and National Interest
(Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1996), 222p.
UCSB DD258.175 L38

by Adan Saucedo
June 5, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
$26 & searchable
at amazon

About Adan Saucedo

I am a junior history major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I transferred from Cerritos College in 2006 where I received my Associate of Arts degree. I love all aspects of history, but my specialty is American history. Lately, I have been concentrating more on 20th century European history and the Cold War. I chose Lavy’s book to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the formation of Israel and its relationship with Germany.

Abstract (back to top)

After World War II, Europe was left in great turmoil. Reconstruction, occupation, and choosing alliances were essential for most European countries. With the creation of the state of Israel and the division of Germany in the late 1940s, no one was sure of what was to become of the two countries. The Jews had lost over six million people due to the atrocities committed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. With the events that occurred during the Holocaust, it was almost certain that the newly founded state of Israel had no intentions of establishing any relations with Germany. However, due to the Cold War between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, many alliances were established that separated communist countries from democratic ones, thus initiating relations between Israel and West Germany. Although it took about 20 years after WWII for Israel and West Germany to establish formal diplomatic relations, the two nations went through a series of events that brought them together. But the question is how would these two new countries benefit from each other? Israel was in great economic need while West Germany was trying hard to reestablish credibility with Western powers. Initially, the foundation of Israel’s and West Germany’s relationship was derived from the ideology of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, for both nations needed one another in order to survive economically, and to obtain foreign recognition and relations.

Essay (back to top)

Jews and Germans… West Germans and Israelis

One of the most recognized, and most recent, genocides was the atrocities committed by Hitler’s Nazi Germany against the Jews throughout Europe during the Second World War. When the war came to an end, no one was certain of what was to become of Germany, and above all, what was to become of the surviving Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and how they would go on about living their lives knowing that Germans will still be present. It is easy to say let bygones be bygones, but when the lives of over six million people were destroyed, it is tough for Jewish people to forgive and forget what was done to them. With George Lavy’s book, Germany and Israel: Moral Debt and National Interest, along with other resources, I will illustrate how West Germany and Israel, which were created as a result from World War II, utilized one another to insure their survival economically, obtained foreign recognition and relations, and most importantly, became linked together for ages to come by remembering the past.

Although it took about 20 years after WWII for West Germany and Israel to establish formal diplomatic relations, the two nations had to go through a series of events that challenged their willingness to overcome the past. How would these newfound countries benefit from each other? What goals was Israel trying to accomplish by allying itself to a country that nearly exterminated its people? What goals was West Germany trying to achieve by establishing relations with a country that was not wealthy, had few natural resources (Lavy, 8), and was located in hostile territories? The fact of the matter is that both Israel and West Germany needed each other in order to survive and gain international status and recognition; in other words, ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ was the ideology used to justify their relationship. Israel was in great need of economic and military support, while West Germany wanted to re-establish credibility amongst the Western powers (Lavy, 9). Furthermore, there was more pressure on the hands of West Germany to create and secure its alliance with Israel and to insure Jews all around the world that Germany would forever be in ‘moral debt’; even if it meant that its own economy and foreign relations would be harmed (Lavy, 205).

West Germany had to prove to Israel, and to the rest of the world, that its former Nazi ideals were not going to come back, and therefore insure West Germany’s credibility. However, the actions that West Germany would take during the years following the World War would be closely watched by Israel, which evidently would determine the stance Israel would hold over Germany. The Israeli government and people paid close attention to the following: how Germany would illustrate its moral debt to Israel; what Germany’s reaction and handling of the Luxembourg Agreement (Lavy, 9), as well as the Statute of Limitations, would be; and finally, the matter of how West Germany went about de-Nazificating itself, and its handling of prosecuting those who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity under Nazi Germany (Lavy, 73). These are all important factors that should be taken into consideration in order to visualize the steps that West Germany had to make to legitimize itself with both Israel and the rest of the world (Lavy, 205).

The post-World War II era was a time of borders being re-established, nations creating alliances, and the occupation, and development, of countries. The surviving Jewish population was left in turmoil, not knowing what was to become of them. With the assistance of the United Nations, and with the withdrawal of British forces from Palestine (Wilkins, 40), the State of Israel was founded in 1947 among the same geographical location as Palestine. As a result, the Arab-Israeli War broke out in 1948, which resulted with the state of Israel becoming an independent state (Wolffsohn, 72). On the other hand, Germany was under military rule and occupied by the countries of France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Germany was split in half, with the East belonging to the Soviet Union and the West divided amongst the other three countries. The futures of both Israel and a divided Germany were yet to be determined, but one thing remained certain, that the circumstances that led to the development of these countries were ‘drawn out of conflict’ (Robinson, 72).

Once the two nations were established, the relationship between Israel and, in this case, West Germany, began with immense animosity displayed by the Israeli state towards the German people. Due to the fact that most of the Israeli population was made up of Holocaust survivors and those who lost loved ones by Nazi Germany, it was no surprise that Israel, and its people, wanted nothing to do with Germany whatsoever (Lavy, 2). Any attempts made by the Federal Republic, also known as West Germany, to establish a relation with Israel by means of material compensation were commonly viewed by many Israeli's as blood money; in other words, “material restitution could never completely repay such a debt” (Lavy, 72). Although West Germany too suffered economically, a country turned upside down by war, it was clear that the Federal Republic were anxious to establish relations with Israel (Lavy, 2). The power struggles that developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s between the United States and the Soviet Union, known as the Cold War, virtually forced many countries to take sides between the two nations; as a result, the Federal Republic and Israel were reeled into the East-West conflict (Lavy, 2). Ultimately, it was the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that helped West Germany and Israel to come into terms and move towards each other, although the Israeli people resisted this development for some time (Lavy, 2).

Essentially, it was through compensations that led to the bond of Israel and West Germany to develop. As a result from the Arab-Israeli War, and the fact that Israel was created from scratch, the state of Israel heavily depended on military and economic aid from outside nations to insure its survival (Larre, 267). Although Israel received aid through the Truman Doctrine (Haftendorn, 11), and from other programs, Israel's primary source of economic aid would eventually come from West Germany, mainly due to its “economic miracle” in the 1950s (Haftendorn, 19). However, during 1950 and 1951, the Israeli government still did not associate itself with West Germany, although several letters were sent out by the Israeli government to the western occupying powers regarding compensation (Lavy, 6). Out of the many letters that were sent out, one particular letter sent on March of 1951 gained recognition. It stated figures that gave a rough estimate of Jewish property that was destroyed by the Nazi regime, and due to the large migrations of Jews into Israel, inflation had to be taken into consideration, which added to the large compensation estimated total (Lavy, 6). However, many German citizens, along with some supporters of the Hitler regime, believed that they had nothing to do with the Jewish genocide, and therefore, neither blame nor compensation should be made (Lavy, 2). This was not taken kindly, for the Israeli people felt that it was Germany’s obligation to be ‘morally indebt’ to Israel (Wolffsohn, 59).

Adenauer Ben Gurion and Adenauer, 1966 Nachum Goldmann
Adenauer, Jan. 4. 1954
1966: Ben Gurion and Adenauer meet in Israel
Nachum Goldmann (1895-1982)

After nearly a decade since WWII ended, the time to compensate the struggling Israeli state was about to begin. In response to the letter sent out by the Israeli government in March of 1951 to western occupying powers, Konrad Adenauer (left), Chancellor of West Germany, replied to Dr. Nahum Goldmann (right), Chairman of the Claims Conference, stating that the day of negotiations had come, and that his government was agreed to accept the claims in which was stated in the letter of March 1951 (Lavy, 8). This was an extremely tempting offer by the Federal Republic to Israel, for Israel was in desperate need of economic aid, and due to the fact that Israel was located in a hostile area with not many friends to receive support, it needed all the help it can get. After the approval from the Knesset, the Israel’s legislature, the Israeli government responded back to the Federal Republic’s offer; as a result, violent protests were held outside the Jerusalem parliament building (Lavy, 8). After further negotiations, on September 10, 1952, the ‘Restitution Agreement’ was signed at Luxembourg, thus, initiating West Germany’s compensation to Israel (Feldman, 65). Now the state of Israel was receiving a steady flow of economic aid, plus, weapons were also secretly transported from Germany to Israel; unfortunately, the shipment of weapons had stopped, for it raised tension amongst the neighboring Arab countries (Lavy, 57). Moreover, in the mid1960s, the Luxembourg Agreement of 1952 was coming to an end, thus, the Israeli government would no longer have a legal hold over West Germany, for West Germany carried its end of the bargain (Lavy, 141). Although Israel did not have a legal hold on the Germans, it did have a moral holding (Lavy, 136). David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s Prime Minister, made the argued, to former Chancellor Adenauer and current Chancellor Live Eshkol that “the loss of the Jews of creative powers during the Holocaust was an ongoing handicap to the development of the Jewish State” (Lavy, 141). Even though there was constant sympathy for Israel, the German people were growing impatient due to the fact of frequent reminders of Germany’s past (Lavy, 141). However, the Israeli government was doing everything in their power to persuade West Germany to continue their economic support, and again, reminding them that the expiration of the Luxembourg Agreement did not mean that they were free from their moral debt. Adenauer finally expressed to the German people that his “impressions and experiences in Israel have strengthened my conviction that we must never desert this struggling state” (Lavy, 141). With that said, Germany continued its economic aid to Israel.

West Germany was doing well in regards of making generous material and economic compensations to Israel, but Germany’s de-Nazificating itself was the true test to prove its sincerity to all Jews and to the world. There were three factors that determined West Germany’s will to overcome the past, which were the abolition of all traces of Nazi ideology, the removal of formal active Nazis from public posts, and the punishment of those that were responsible of either planning or participating in the killing and/or torture of innocent people (Lavy, 73). Unfortunately for the West Germans, it did not look appealing to the eyes of the Jewish people that the first actions taken against those that committed crimes on humanity and war were handled by the occupying forces; this was due to the fact that from 1945-49, Germany was under a military government (Lavy, 74). For instance, the Nuremburg trials held in 1946 convicted seventy-four major Nazi leaders of war crimes (Wilkins, 58). As much as West Germany wanted to illustrate its sincerity to Israel, it also wanted to distance itself as far away as possible from its past. During the Potsdam Conference held in 1945, which was held by the allied forces to determine what was to become of defeated Nazi Germany, it stated that all war criminals involved with the Nazi regime would be arrested and brought to justice (Lavy, 83). As a result, thousands of formal active Nazis we either sent to prison, executed, or de-Nazified. However, a Statute of Limitations was set up by West Germany that established a date, May 8, 1965, in which no further war criminals could be brought to justice, for West German law states that no one may put on trial for murder unless legal action have taken place within 20 years (Lavy, 77).

The Statute of Limitations created major strains between West Germany and Israel, however, the outcome of the conclusion of the Statute of Limitations would set aside the ‘special relationship’ West Germany had with Israel and establish a normal one. There were major controversies that came about when the Statute of Limitations’ deadline was approaching. Many high ranking Nazi figures were still at large, including Adolf Eichmann, who was a high-ranking Nazi officer that organized and managed massive Jewish deportations and extermination camps (Lavy, 87), and a significant amount of people that were involved in the Nazi party one way or other still held prominent positions (Feldman, 36). However, there was a major factor that intervened with the Statute of Limitations, as well as the Potsdam Agreement, that according to the Bonn Constitution it states in Article 103 paragraph 2 that “a deed can only be punished if it was a punishable deed before it was committed” (Lavy, 79). If that were the case, then thousands of former Nazis of would been left untouched, thus, jeopardizing any chances of West Germany and Israel from ever establishing relations. Fortunately, in regards to the Potsdam Agreement, for Jews and many German Jewish supporters, that international law supersedes state and federal law, for in the Potsdam Agreement a time limit of which war criminals were to be brought to justice was never established (Lavy, 83). As a solution, a four-year extension was granted to the Statute of Limitations, for it was in 1949 that West Germany was formally established, which then later was granted an additional time until 1979 (Lavy, 87). With the conclusion of the Statute of Limitations, all murder cases were abolished, and with that, West Germany and Israel were accomplishing the goal of overcoming the past, which in turn would set ‘normal’ relations with one another.

Since their first formal encounters that initiated in 1952, the relationship that West Germany and Israel developed has grown with amazing results. Originally, what started as compensation agreements quickly transformed into other economic arrangements which included economic aid, trade, and investments (Feldman, 1). In recent years, now a unified Germany, the two nations celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations, starting with the visit of the German president to Israel and a return visit to Germany by the Israeli present, followed by a series of sporting events, opening of exhibitions that commemorates the past by paying respects to all, both German and Jew, that have fallen during the war, traditional dances, and so on (Prosor). It is important for the two nations to remember the past, for it was the events that took place in WWII was what brought them together in the first place. Germany will forever be in moral debt to Israel for what the Nazi regime did to the Jews, and in turn, Israel would be forever grateful to Germany for its economic assistance that insured the survival of the Israeli state. Though both countries shared ups and downs together, one may learn a lot from the example that Germany and Israel has instilled upon us, which is no matter how severe tensions are between two people, two states, two countries, or etcetera, that by compromising with one another may one day lead to the start of a long-lasting friendship.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 6/x/07)

Book Reviews

  • Divine, Donna R., AJS Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, (1999), pp. 422-423.
    Donna Divine points that how Lavy chose to focus on how German morality intersected the country’s national interest, however, morality and national interest were never actually defined in the book. Divine also criticizes Lavy’s heavy use of newspapers to support his book, but acknowledges the various points Lavy made of the dilemmas Israel and West Germany went through in the process of reconciliation.
  • Larres, Klaus, The English Historical Review, Vol. 114, No. 455. (Feb., 1999), pp. 267-269.
    Klaus Larres for the most part describes Lavy’s book as good book to be used as an undergraduate textbook, for it briefly describes Israel’s and West Germany’s relationship. However, Klaus criticizes Lavy for only using public speeches and newspaper reports to support his claim of West Germany’s feeling of guilt and moral responsibility towards Israel.

Relevant Books

  • Michman, Dan (ed.). Remembering the Holocaust in Germany, 1945-2000: German Strategies and Jewish Responses. New York: P. Lang, 2002.
    This book has various essays that compares and contrasts the different phases on which Germany and Israel went about in remembering the Holocaust.
  • Peck, Jeffrey M. Being Jewish in the New Germany. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
    This book is intended for Americans and American Jews, which illustrates how Germany has changed since the Nazi regime. Jeffrey Peck shows how much the Jewish community has grown in Germany and the many accomplishments Jews have done in Germany. Throughout the book, many Jewish authors, writers, politicians, actors, and etcetera were displayed in order to illustrate to the world that Germany no longer oppresses the Jewish people.

External Links

  • Wikipedia, “Germany-Israel Relations”
    This page sums up the history between Germany and Israel in a fashionable manner with various dates, names, and references.
  • Koolsterman, Karin, “Israel and Germany: It’s All Water Under the Bridge” (created June 6, 2006), <http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/06/israel_germany.php>.
    Drinking water is a valuable source to every nation. This site illustrates how both Germany and Israel share technology to improve water treatment. This is an important step for the two nations, for it illustrates how strong the relationship between the two countries.
  • Hist 133c review of Charles Williams, Adenauer: The Father of a New Germany (2001)

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 6/13/07; last updated: 6/20/07
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