Survivors of the Holocaust are talking about their experiences and a German court doesn't believe them. Till recently, the unthinkable was reality at the Higher Social Court of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. 2002 the "German Bundestag" passed the so called "Ghetto-Pension-Law". RUB-researcher Dr. Kristin Platt analyzes the administrative procedures and lawsuits in her new book "Bezweifelte Erinnerung, verweigerte Glaubhaftigkeit" (Questioned memories, denied credibility). She comes to the conclusion that many rejections were unjustified and that the evolved administrative procedures were unsuitable. Beyond that, the author shows, which particular characteristics have to be considered when dealing with memories in statements of traumatized survivors. At present, a high rate of denied claims are getting revised at the German statutory pension insurances and the social courts.
Account of chronological sequences
The author (Institute for Diaspora- and Genocide-Studies at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum) is focused on the reasons and the interpretations of inconsistencies occurring in the accounts of chronological sequences. "One has to bear in mind that people in the situation of those days didn't have any benchmarks. There were neither newspapers nor public clocks. And the economic role of the ghettos wasn't considered, too", explains Platt. The law aims to warrant the pension entitlements of individuals, who had worked in German ghettos throughout National Socialism. Of 70.000 received applications 80 to 95 percent were declined. The fact, that no survivor is able to take the monthly payroll accounting out of a shelve, to look up, was ignored, because something impossible was expected from the people: Making minute statements over their wages and the working time without the help of supporting documents, after such a long time.
A questionnaire and its consequences
To assert their claim, the applicants must have done the job of one's own free will and the work must have been paid. Until the Federal Social Court revised the law in 2009, this was far more complicated than expected. How far is voluntary work in a ghetto rated as such by the people living there by force? And how can people explain a judge that additional foods were more valuable than money? For Platt the problem is the style of survey: "The decisions were based on a questionnaire in typical officialise German". North Rhine-Westphalia is responsible for the applications of the persons living in Israel today. "They got the document only in German and without explanations or comments. In the first instance nobody talked to the people", says Platt.
Wikipedia as reference
The social psychologist is interested in reasons and arguments of the German court performances. Were they overburdened by the high number of applications that nobody would have expected, or due to the lack of an expert commission? Did the persons in charge handle the matter with a cut-and-dried opinion? Or was it just a lack of bureaucratic flexibility? The valuation of the filed testimonies was made far away from historical reality. A ghetto not mentioned at Wikipedia doesn't exist. Historians have been questioned very late. The turning point came 2009, after a senate of the Higher Social Court started to held hearings in Israel during which the applicants were heard personally for the first time.
Memories and traumas
Based on her analysis of the accounts of the survivors on their work in the ghettos, Platt schematizes typical characteristics of memories and traumatic experiences. She shows that "memory losses" and incoherent statements aren't automatically an indication on contradictions and witness's incredibility. Thereby, she accomplishes a contribution to the process of a most recent chapter of "redemption". Beyond that she contributes to the assessment of credibility regarding statements presented in a trial or hearing by witnesses with severe psychological trauma and emotional injuries.
Platt, Kristin: Bezweifelte Erinnerung, verweigerte Glaubhaftigkeit – Überlebende des Holocaust in den Ghettorenten-Verfahren, 2012, VII + 518 Seiten, Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 69,00 Euro, ISBN 978-3-7705-5373-0
Dr. Kristin Platt, Institute for Diaspora- und Genocide-Studies at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, 44780 Bochum, Germany, +049 234 32 29701, firstname.lastname@example.org
"Bezweifelte Erinnerung, verweigerte Glaubhaftigkeit – Überlebende des Holocaust in den Ghettorenten-Verfahren" http://www.fink.de/katalog/titel/978-3-7705-5373-0.html
Editorial journalist: Marie-Astrid Reinartz