Reckonings – JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival 2023

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett signs the Reparations Agreement between the German Federal Republic, the State of Israel, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims. Photo credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Reckonings is a documentary that takes a look back at the early 1950s when German and Jewish leaders met to discuss reparations.

Chances are likely that you probably do not know the story of the Jewish Claims Conference. It took until the 1950s for leaders to meet and discuss compensation for survivors. The question on many minds during the talks are how does one determine reparations for the worst mass genocide in history. How much is a life worth? Would survivors turn down the money? These are just some of the striking questions that the film asks.

Reckonings isn’t a long film but it’s still an important contribution to history. How many people know the history behind the talks? While the Claims Conference is still ongoing, the film explores its early years. How did the conference come to be in the first place? You’re not going to get the complete story in 74 minutes but filmmaker Roberta Grossman makes sure to hit all of the important notes. The film includes Holocaust survivors, scholars, witnesses, representatives from the Claims Conference, Israeli government, and German government.

Rachel Blumenthal, a scholar, notes that Jews were ranked in the bottom of the polls as Germans rejected the collective guilt after the Holocaust. Meanwhile, fellow scholar Michael Brochard lets the audience know that only 11% of Germans supported compensation talks. The number is awfully low but it would take a lot to get things moving on a path towards making things right. Not that money is ever going to be enough to make up for systemic murders of Jews during the Holocaust.

About eight minutes into the documentary, we see a clip of then-German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer speaking at the German Bundestag in September 1952. In this speech, Adenauer calls compensation crucial for building bridges with both the State of Israel and world Jewry. More importantly, it would show that Germany accepted guilt for the Holocaust. The talks would not be easy as both sides went back and forth. At one point, the German negotiators would resign from their positions. The talks would lead to the Luxembourg Agreements of 1952. Ultimately, Israel would receive a payment of 3 billion Mark while the Claims Conference would get 450 million in the first round of payments. More payments would be made over the years as more claims were filed.

Both the German Ministry of Finance and the Claims Conference commissioned the documentary. Without this, more people might not know about the history behind the Claims Conference. Personally, I found it to be enlightening despite the brief run time. As debate raged on, things were not pretty in Germany or Israel. In fact, a mob stormed the Knesset during the debate over whether or not to even meet with Germans. The Holocaust was and still remains a sensitive subject. But somehow, they persevered even when it appeared that talks were breaking down.

Reckonings might not be a lengthy documentary but it is an important contribution to cinema exploring the aftermath in the post-Holocaust years.

FEATURING: Bettina Adenauer-Bieberstein, Benjamin Ferencz, Yaakov Sharett, Tova Friedman, Serena Neumann, Chava Nissimov, Helena Weinrauch, Irene Weiss, Rachel Blumenthal, Michael Berenbaum, Michael Brochard, Dan Diner, Constantin Goschler, Jacob Tovy, Roni Stauber, Ronald Zweig, Stuart Eizenstat, Greg Schneider, Gideon Taylor, Werner Gatzer, Wolfgang Schäuble, Isaac Herzog

Reckonings held its Chicago premiere during the 10th JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.