Van Dam, Hendrik George

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VAN DAM, HENDRIK GEORGE (1906–1973), leader and recognized spokesman of the post-war Jewish community in Germany. Born in Berlin, Van Dam studied law, but his legal career came to an abrupt end with Hitler's rise to power. After spending several years in Holland and Switzerland, he emigrated to England, and in 1941 enlisted in the British Army, later serving in Holland and occupied Germany. After his release from the army in 1946, he volunteered for the Jewish Relief units and served as their legal adviser and later as director for the British Zone of Occupation in Germany. With the establishment of the Central Council (Zentralrat) of the Jews in Germany, he was appointed secretary general of the Council in October 1950, with residence first in Hamburg and later in Duesseldorf, continuing in that capacity until 1972. He participated in the negotiations between the *Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany and was a delegate of the German Government at The Hague in 1952, and became one of the foremost legal experts in the field of restitution and indemnification.

Van Dam's book, Das Bundesentschaedigungsgesetz ("The Federal Indemnification Law," 1953) became a classic and has been published in several revised editions. He also wrote Die Haager Vertragswerke ("The Hague Treaties," 1952), kz Verbrechen vor deutschen Gerichten ("Concentration Camp Crimes before German Tribunals," 2 vols., 1962–66), and Die Unverjaehrbarkeit des Voelkermordes ("No Statute of Limitation for Genocide," 1969).

Early in 1950, Van Dam was asked by the Israel Ministry of Finance to prepare an opinion on the legal basis and prospects of a claim by the Government of Israel to inherit heirless Jewish property. In a memorandum submitted to the Ministry on July 1, 1950, Van Dam advised the Israel Government to enter into negotiations with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany. His advice, though at that time premature from both the Israeli and German points of view, proved his foresight.

Van Dam was one of the chief protagonists of the reconstitution of a Jewish community in Germany. He believed that the reestablishment of the community was not only an inalienable right of the Jews but also in the interest of world Jewry. He maintained that the reemergence of a viable and strong German Republic was a world necessity, and that it was in the interests of the free world – and therefore also of the Jewish people – that the new Germany be integrated in the new world as a reformed and truly democratic component. Normalization of relations between the Jewish people and the new Germany, he felt, was unavoidable in the long run, and should therefore not be delayed, and in this process the Jewish community in Germany could and must play a decisive role. A large-scale German reparations program (in the sense of undoing the wrong; in German, Wiedergutmachung) would not only meet a justified Jewish claim, but also act as a catalyst in the process of normalization. Although Van Dam refused to advocate the return of Jews to Germany, he also refused to dissuade Jews from returning. Since the community existed and should exist, its voluntary dissolution would not serve the interests either of world Jewry or of the State of Israel. He coined the slogan: "We insist on existing" and maintained his view against the opposition of many Jewish leaders and movements.

Although he recognized the need for a Jewish State after the Holocaust and was always ready to lend his advice and active assistance to Israel, Van Dam emphasized that he was not a Zionist, believing rather in a polycentric world Jewish community. He died in Dusseldorf.

[Chaim Yahil]

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Van Dam, Hendrik George

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Van Dam, Hendrik George