Commentary Magazine

Mr. Lehrman Replies

To the Editor:

Please let me say first that my getting slugged for a COMMENTARY article is so rare I’m almost enjoying it. I don’t know how many dozen pieces I’ve had the honor of writing for you these past eight years—but practically never a growl, or anything, about them in this section. But write a little bit about Germany and you’re a shooting-gallery pigeon.

  1. Dr. Schreiber is quite correct, of course, when he changes “bisher” back to “bishierher”—though I see small difference in English between his “hitherto” and my “until now.” But what of it? The former rabbi of Potsdam continues to miss the point. I do not presume to argue with the prophet Samuel about the appropriateness of his noble text to his community. But was Dr. Schreiber’s half-hour sermon on the mercies they enjoyed despite Hitlerism the aptest way to comfort the survivors of decimated Berlin Jewry?
  2. Mr. Glickman has given the JRSO’s case in full, and there is no room here to engage him in detail. I would note only that he makes two untenable implications of a general nature. The first is that JRSO has never been wrong. Mr. Borchardt above seems to disagree with him in one instance. At least four communities in Germany—and the West German courts which sustained this position—disagree with him in another. Mr. Glickman’s own avoidance of comment on my article’s reference to attitudes of certain JRSO representatives toward their German Jewish clients suggests a third. His other inference is that my report did nothing but defend the adversaries of JRSO on all counts. In fact, it criticized the German Jewish leadership and it deplored the court verdict against JRSO. A disputant may want to be declared absolutely right in every particular, but a reporter does not have to oblige. My intention was to show the shades of gray on both sides, not to pretend that one is all white, the other all black. I stand by my conclusion: “The mischief is that JRSO apparently was not generous enough in the beginning, and made wiser offers too late. . . . The enlistment of a high-level arbiter . . . ought to be a prime order of current business. . . .”
  3. Although no correspondent has noted it, my article did commit an important error which I welcome this chance to set right. I wrote that Israel, through the Jewish Agency, would receive proceeds from that part of German reparations which had actually been earmarked by Bonn for Jews outside Israel. The reverse is true, as I have learned since leaving Germany. Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett was eager to retain the strong support of world Jewish organizations in the parleys with Bonn. He therefore agreed with the Conference on Material Claims that, no matter what the eventual total grant of reparations would be, a full 15 per cent should be reserved for work on behalf of Nazism’s victims not residing in Israel. It happened, however, that negotiations with the Germans ended in two separate accords. Bonn committed itself to reparations worth $715 million for Israel, $107 million for the Conference. The latter figure is less than 15 per cent of the $822 million total. I understand now that Israel is nevertheless fulfilling its prior pledge and gradually making the difference—some $15 million—available to the Conference from Israel’s share for work outside the State. My only excuse for not having known and reported this is that apparently the Israeli and Jewish Agency representatives whom I consulted in Germany didn’t know it either. At any rate, none saw fit to mention it during long conversations on the subject of reparations.

Hal Lehrman
New York City



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