In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the unprecedented destruction and plight of survivors prompts the unthinkable – German and Jewish leaders meet in secret to grapple with the first reparations in history.
It’s been said that it felt as if the souls of the six million who were murdered during the Holocaust were in the room with them when the meetings began. They met in secret to negotiate the unthinkable – compensation for the survivors of the largest mass genocide the world had ever known. Survivors were in urgent need of help, but how could reparations be determined for the unprecedented destruction of a people and atrocities suffered by millions? Reckonings explores this fascinating true story set in the aftermath of the Holocaust and leading to the groundbreaking Luxembourg Agreements of 1952.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman (Who Will Write Our History) and commissioned by the German Ministry of Finance and the Claims Conference, the film is the first documentary feature to chronicle the harrowing process of negotiating German reparations for the Jewish people. It takes viewers from the halls of power in Bonn, West Germany, where fierce debate raged over how to pay wartime debts, to the streets of Jerusalem, where horror about any talks with Germany led to violent protests and a mob storming the Knesset. It profiles Jewish and German leaders who risked their lives to meet in a hidden castle near the Hague to negotiate the impossible . It captures the anger on one side, the shame on the other, and the anguish for all as talks broke down and failure seemed imminent. And it honors the behind-the-scenes figures who forged ahead to continue negotiations, knowing the compensation would never be enough but hoping it could at least be an acknowledgement, a recognition and a step toward healing.
Filmed in six countries and featuring new interviews with Holocaust survivors, world-renowned scholars and dignitaries and the last surviving member of the negotiating delegations, Reckonings powerfully illustrates how political will and a moral imperative can join forces to bridge an impossible divide. By confronting the past, the German and Jewish leaders charted a better future for a desperate and traumatized people. Their actions led to the first time in history that individual victims of persecution received material compensation from the perpetrators.
When asked to direct Reckonings, the story of the groundbreaking Luxembourg Agreements, I welcomed the opportunity to investigate not the Holocaust itself, but the aftermath for survivors, the Jewish world and Germany.
The story goes far beyond the Holocaust and could not be more relevant to the current day. The Luxembourg Agreements, signed in 1952 by three entities that didn’t even exist before the war (Israel, West Germany and the Claims Conference) set in motion the very first reparations ever paid by a state to individuals they harmed.
This unprecedented achievement would never have happened save for the efforts of visionary individuals who overcome all odds to do the impossible — to sit across the table from representatives of the very people who had committed the greatest genocide in history. They did it to help the survivors who, as one negotiator said, “lost everything. They had only the tattoos on their arms.” It also required the foresight of leaders on the German side, who had the courage to face and acknowledge their country’s unfathomably evil acts and open themselves up to a reckoning.
Reckonings explores the impact of compensation on the survivors, Israel and on Germany itself. As one interviewee states: “In the last seventy years, we have discovered that reparations not only help the victims, but the perpetrators as well. An honest confrontation with your past is the best way to build a better future.”
I hope that Reckonings can provide some hope for solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
Miami Jewish Film Festival
Director of Photography