The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis -

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

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