A road towards atonement? Why only West Germany came to “atone” for the Nazi crimes.
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The duty to remember the Holocaust, the profession of responsibility for the atrocities committed, the admission of guilt and shame on the part of all Germans with the ensuing effort to atone for the past constitute the cornerstone of Germany’s national memory approach today. However, what started this official ‘atoner attitude’ in the first instance? More specifically, what was the initial push towards the long road of atonement, and why did German political leaders decide to take this approach in the first place? To answer this question, the presentation examines the decision to pay reparations to Israel in 1952. Through archival documents, the case study reconstructs the international incentives, mindset and diplomatic backchannel discussions between the Israelis, the Allies and the West Germans and compares these with the Austrian case. Altogether, the paper sheds new light on the roots of the German “atonement approach” – particularly the role of Israel therein – explicating more generally which international constellations and aspects of the global political process bear the potential to lead countries towards atonement.