Faculty Bulletin Board

Susan Slyomovics explores reparations programs and their implications

Susan Slyomovics

Susan Slyomovics, UCLA professor of anthropology and Near Eastern languages and cultures, has published a new book, “How to Accept German Reparations.” The book is a part of the Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights series by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Germany, in a landmark process that transformed global reparations after the Holocaust, created the largest sustained redress program in history, amounting to more than $60 billion. In “How to Accept Geman Reparations,” Slyomovics explores this and other compensation programs, both those past and those that might exist in the future, through the lens of anthropological and human rights discourse. When human rights violations are presented primarily in material terms, acknowledging an indemnity claim becomes one way for a victim to be recognized, writes Slyomovics. At the same time, indemnifications provoke a number of difficult questions about how suffering and loss can be measured: How much is an individual life worth? How much or what kind of violence merits compensation? What is "financial pain," and what does it mean to monetize "concentration camp survivor syndrome"?

Slyomovics points to the examples of her grandmother and mother, Czechoslovakian Jews who survived the Auschwitz, Plaszow and Markkleeberg camps together but disagreed about applying for the post-World War II Wiedergutmachung ("to make good again") reparation programs. Slyomovics maintains that we can use the legacies of German reparations to reconsider approaches to reparations in the future -- how, for example, might reparations models apply to the modern-day conflict in Israel and Palestine?  -- and the result is an investigation of practical implications, complicated by the difficult legal, ethnographic and personal questions that reparations inevitably prompt.

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