June 25, 1998
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v2.1 Reference

Paying for the Past

The Struggle over Reparations for Surviving Victims of the Nazi Terror

"In countries just emerging from dictatorships, societies have been looking to history for models of reparations and justice for the victims. German reparations for the victims of Nazism represents both a model and a warning."—from the Preface

In the aftermath of World War II, a defeated Nazi Germany hoped to ignore concentration camp survivors. But the Western Allies, the newly established Israeli government, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany defended the rights of Jews who had survived the Holocaust and of the relatives of those who had been murdered. International treaties enacted by these groups forced the Federal Republic of Germany to financially compensate the victims for stolen property as well as for damage to physical and mental health and livelihood.

In Paying for the Past, physician and historian Christian Pross untangles the complicated history of reparations in West Germany, from the American military government's 1947 Law Number 59 (Restitution of Property Stolen in the Course of the "Aryanization of the Economy") to West Germany's Federal Restitution Law of 1957 and into the 1970s. When first published in German in 1988, Pross's landmark research caused a furor because it exposed the hostility of the West German people and the bitter political opposition within the government toward reparations legislation and the Holocaust victims seeking restitution. One of Pross's most disturbing discoveries was that victims were frequently retraumatized by the reparations process itself. Some were forced to undergo medical and psychological examination by dozens of physicians in order to substantiate their claims of abuse. Many more had claims still pending after twenty years of waiting.

Paying for the Past uncovers the inconsistencies, distortions, superficialities, and veiled anti-Semitic attitudes of West Germany's official version of its reparations history. Pross brings to light the government's continuous resistance to reparations and allows those who challenged this official reluctance to finally speak. Through victims' statements and numerous eyewitness accounts, the book also unblinkingly documents the crimes for which victims demanded restitution. Finally available in English, this edition of Paying for the Past contains a new preface by the author and an afterword by medical ethicist Erich Loewy which places the ethical issues raised by the West German experiences with reparations into an international context.

About the Author

Dr. Christian Pross is the medical director of the Center for the Treatment of Torture Victims in Berlin, Germany, and coauthor (with Götz Aly and Peter Chroust) of Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, also available from Johns Hopkins.


Pross's absorbing and balanced work examines yet another disgraceful era in German history.

- Booklist

As the international community continues to struggle with the issue of reparations, this ably translated book serves as a cautionary tale.

- Publishers Weekly

Much evidence is provided on the bias of some of the reparations administrators.

- Bernard Ineichen - Social History of Medicine

From more than 300 files and personal interviews, the author describes the 'other side' of the reparations question, showing how former victims often found themselves victimized anew... Pross uncovers grave deficiencies in the German medical profession, which for years ignored research in other countries about the illnesses of concentration camp survivors.

- Der Spiegel

A thorough, scientific, and sympathetic study.

- Frankfurter Rundschau


Paying for the Past is a valuable addition to the literature on the postwar attitudes of West Germany towards its Nazi past. Christian Pross has done a remarkable job.

- Henry FriedlanderCity University of New York, author of The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

Christian Pross writes as grippingly of the broad historical context as he does of the fate of individuals. This is a book that could begin a discusiion.

- Allgemeine

Based on archival sources and the testimony of witnesses, Pross's book offers a thorough analysis of the origins and contents of the reparations laws, and thoroughly illuminates their political, psychological, and medical aspects.

- Das Parlament

This unique book makes an important contribution that will challenge every reader to an intensive engagement with the subject.

- Psychiatrische Praxis
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9780801858246 : paying-for-the-past-pross
296 Pages
$44.00 USD

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Cleansing the Fatherland

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Aug 1994 - Johns Hopkins University Press
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