BADDIEL AND THE MISSING NAZI MILLIONS
BBC One, Wednesday, November 14
MAKING A documentary about Holocaust reparations presents a tricky problem for programme makers.
It is a worthy topic but also a hugely complicated one, and there are complicated legal and financial issues to be addressed. How then to do the subject justice while presenting it in a way in which persuades people to watch?
The BBC’s answer? Get a comedian to present it. Oh, and give the programme a name which suggests a little excitement. Thus, instead of Holocaust Reparations: An investigation, we got Baddiel and the Missing Nazi Billions.
In fairness, David Baddiel was a sympathetic host and gave the documentary the human touch it so badly needed. He also had a personal case to be considered. His own grandparents had owned a brick factory in Konigsberg, now Kaliningrad, which had been taken over by the Nazis. Eventually, the Baddiels were given £700 compensation in the mid 1960s — we saw a photo of the curtains that the money had enabled them to buy — not much in return for a brick factory, but something at least.
But Baddiel was by no means persuaded that seeking restitution for property seized by the Nazis was even a good idea. He referred to his antisemitic radar. “The antisemites would say that Jews are always trying to get money, why won’t they let this drop?”
However, the more he investigated, the more he became convinced that Jews had a right to recognition, if not full compensation.
He spoke to Auschwitz survivor Frank Bright. His parents had died in the death camps and Bright had spent several years attempting to track down proof that his father had a life assurance policy with Swiss company, Alliance. In the end he received $4,000 from a humanitarian fund backed by the insurance companies — a fraction of the money he would have been due.
However, Baddiel wisely interpreted Bright’s pursuance of the claim as something more than financial. The policy, hidden deep in the vaults of some financial institution in Switzerland, was, said Baddiel, “symbolic of the fact that Frank’s parents actually existed”.
For others, the amounts are more important. Some $150 billion in today’s money is thought to have been stolen. Al Lewis, a New York senator, had investigated the insurance companies’ behaviour over Holocaust claims and had no doubt that there had been wrongdoing. He told Baddiel: “This is a billion dollar theft. It haunts me. There’s a stench made up of greed and criminality.”
However, in Poland where practi- cally no claims had been settled, the situation was much less clear.
True, Jewish property had been expropriated by the Nazis. However, at the end of the Second World War, the Communists had taken over and nationalised everybody else’s property. Why, asked the Poles, should the Jews get their money when millions of others would get nothing? Plus, said a Polish estate agent, the billions of pounds of restitution claims would bring Poland to its knees (not something a substantial number of Jews would shed too many tears over).
This was a fascinating documentary and something of a journey for Baddiel. There were some gratuitous scenes — for example when he was filmed watching an England match in Poland, presumably to show he had not completely forsaken his laddishness. He was also filmed talking to his brother in a hotel in New York for no particular reason apart from the fact that the two of them lying on a hotel bed made quite a nice shot.
Ultimately, however, he came to the right conclusion: that whatever the merits or otherwise of pushing for compensation, the one thing that does not matter is what the antisemites think.
Should Holocaust survivors be compensated? Baddiel by the Berlin Wall