Once again, Germany is opening its checkbook and writing symbolic apologies -- this time to some 230 American citizens who were held in Nazi concentration camps. Former German Jews now living in the States had previously received reparations, as had scores of European Jews. But Americans captured and interned during the war have been overlooked, largely because of a technicality that was fought for 40 years by a New Jersey man, Hugo Princz, who spent his youth in a Nazi camp and finally won a settlement from the German government in 1995.
Eligibility for the payments, which will range from $15,000 to $250,000, is to be determined by the U.S. government after Germany's parliament votes to release the funds. Though critics charge that chasing reparations cheapens the memory of the Holocaust, Germany has offered up more than $60 billion to survivors worldwide as a "gesture of good will and humanity." "In the current climate," says TIME Washington correspondent Adam Zagorin, "it's not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do to try and take care of the financial obligations toward people who suffered or their heirs." There is "an enlightened self-interest" on the German government's part, he says, "though it also may have been done as a goodwill gesture." As the population of Holocaust survivors dwindles with time, there may be only a few more years before such gestures become meaningless.