The Association of German Foundations, currently chaired by the head of the Volkswagen Foundation, is looking to find a means to offer protection to its members against accusations such as those against the Toepfer Foundation. One idea is to establish a board which would set collective standards that would permit universities to accept grants from German foundations using money derived from the Holocaust.
The association argues rightly that a precondition of acceptability is for the companies from whose profits the foundations derive their endowments to open their archives relating to their activities in the Nazi era. This would be a welcome and long-overdue step. It would not be sufficient. It would not resolve the controversial issue of sponsorship by corporations of their own histories. However "independent" the historians chosen to write them may appear to be, it is doubtful whether sponsorship and independence can coexist. The history of Volkswagen, whose lead author was Hans Mommsen, was the subject of a running controversy in the Times Literary Supplement in the late 1990s. The volume attracted criticism of its meagre treatment of Volkswagen's main atrocity, the murder of several hundred infants in the company's baby home for the children of slave labourers at Ruehen.
The issue of grants to universities from Holocaust-tainted German foundations and corporations presents at least three major problems. First, in the frequent cases where they have benefited from Holocaust-era slave labour, neither universities, museums nor Jewish educational institutions can have a moral claim to their largesse as long as legal liability to the slave labourers continues to be denied and as long as payments to them and to their families are at the insulting level offered in the negotiations in the United States in the 1990s. A total of under £6,000 offered after a delay of more than 50 years for someone who was enslaved for years in ghettoes and concentration camps does not provide a resolution, especially since most members of the SS and their families have been entitled to so much more.
Second, even if such foundations provide money for good causes, including studies of the Holocaust, this may not repair some worrying trends in public opinion and in much elite opinion in Germany. There is too much evidence of the desire — perhaps natural — to dwell on German suffering and victimhood and to regard Nazi atrocities as comparable to many others. It is this desire which leads to "greywashing" and to concerted attacks against scholars who have ventured to be too bold in their critical analyses of Nazi Germany.
Third, there has been an unwise temptation, not least on the part of some Jewish scholars and institutions, to take advantage of financial offers from German institutions. It costs less and gains greater prestige for German companies and foundations to provide significant grants to a limited number of politically and academically prominent individuals and organisations than to accept the just claims of the mass of Holocaust victims.
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