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We periodically offer a selection of recent reports dealing with apologies and reparations. The most recent appeared in our March/April 2003 issue. We’d be happy to send you a compendium of all such past reports; just send us a SASE (60¢ postage).September/October 2003 issue of Poverty & Race

We periodically offer a selection of recent reports dealing with apologies and reparations. The most recent appeared in our March/April 2003 issue. We’d be happy to send you a compendium of all such past reports; just send us a SASE (60¢ postage).

• The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition was held Aug. 23. The date was proclaimed in 2002 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be observed each year, in commemoration of the uprising that took place on the night of Aug. 22-23, 1791, on the island of Santo Domingo (present-day Haiti & the Dominican Republic).

• Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Kolzumi, in response to Asian countries’ calls for Japan to acknowledge wartime aggression, marked the 58th anniversary of World War II’s end with apologies and messages of peace, expressing regret for the destruction inflicted by his country. (Boston Globe, 8/16/03)

• Australia’s 2003 Sorry Day – referring to historic treatment of Aboriginal people and “the stolen generations” — was commemorated on May 26 in Parliament House with the theme, “Healing the Past, Shaping the Future.” Across Australia, cities and towns held community events, and Journey of Healing marches took place in several cities. (

• Survivors and their families of the infamous 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, dissatisfied with the city’s lack of response to the recent Tulsa Race Riot Commission report (no restitution, but survivors were given commemorative medals), have filed a damage suit, represented by a legal team including Harvard Law Prof. Charles Ogletree and trial lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. Historian John Hope Franklin, who grew up in Tulsa, joined the suit as a plaintiff. (Brent Staples, “Coming to Grips With the Unthinkable in Tulsa,” NY Times, 3/16/03)

• The US Supreme Court, in June, by a 5-4 vote, struck down a 1999 California law designed to help Holocaust survivors receive insurance policy payments that European companies have long denied; the Court ruled the law improperly interfered with US foreign policy. The law required subsidiaries of European companies to produce the names of millions of policyholders who bought coverage from their parent companies in Germany, Italy and elsewhere in Europe between 1920 and 1945, with the penalty for noncompliance the loss of license to do business in the state. Some Holocaust and insurance experts estimate the unpaid life insurance policies could be several billion dollars. In 1998, faced with more than a dozen lawsuits and under threat from regulators of having their licenses revoked, a half-dozen European insurers agreed to found the International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims, with publication of policyholders’ names one goal. While some 422,000 names have been published so far, Holocaust experts say millions of policies remain unaccounted for – and of course survivors and their families have no other way of knowing if they are owed money. When the US government made this settlement with Germany, it agreed to discourage lawsuits and regulatory actions against German companies – hence the brief it filed opposing the California law. In May, three Congressmen introduced legislation specifically authorizing states to require companies to make Holocaust-era names public. (NY Times, Wash. Post, 6/24/03; NY Times, 5/2/03)

• Relatedly, thousands of elderly Holocaust survivors in 31 countries will share $15 million in humanitarian aid from German insurance companies in 2003 in the first of what will be 10 annual payouts. The $132 million fund is part of a deal completed in October 2002 after years of negotiations to compensate families of Holocaust victims whose insurance policies were never honored after they were killed by the Nazis. (Wash. Post, 6/3/03)

• On April, 7 American Indians filed a class action in the US Court of Federal Claims, on behalf of some 100,000 individuals who attended federally-mandated Indian boarding schools from 1890 til the present day. They seek $25 billion in damages from the US government, claiming that federal officials knowingly allowed sexual and physical abuse of these students. (Education Week, 4/23/03)

• Nicaragua Reminder: In the 1980s, the Nicaraguan government took the US government to the World Court, which in 1986 ruled that the US had violated international law by “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua.” Specific acts the Court found to be illegal included the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors, a trade embargo, attacks on ports, and publication of a training manual instructing the contras in commission of acts that violate humanitarian law (i.e., terrorism). The Court ordered the US to pay reparations, an order the US has refused to honor. (PeaceWork, May 2003)

• A 70-year-old woman in Newfield, NJ, whose father had once owned Germany’s biggest retail chain, Wertheim Warehaus, has brought suit in federal court against KarstadtQuella, a sprawling retail conglomerate that ended up with the remnants of the Wertheim empire. If successful, the lawsuit would be the largest Holocaust-era restitution claim by a single family, and its outcome could determine ownership of 22 acres in the revitalized heart of Berlin, some of Europe’s most valuable property. (NY Times, 4/26/03)

• Utah Massacre: New research re an 1857 incident involving a militia of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) which attacked a wagon train of Arkansas families bound for California and, following their surrender, butchered some 140 men, women and children, suggests church leaders ordered the massacre. Victims’ relatives and others have been pressing the Mormon Church for an apology, with no success. As one account put it, “To acknowledge complicity on the part of church leaders runs the risk of calling into question Brigham Young’s divinity and the Mormon belief that they are God’s chosen people.” (Sally Denton, “A Utah Massacre and Mormon Memory,” NY Times, 5/24/03; Emily Eakin, “Reopening a Mormon Murder Mystery,” NY Times, 10/12/02)

• Last February, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) organized a lobbying day in Washington to support H.R. 40, the Reparations Study bill annually introduced by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan. NCOBRA can be reached at 202/466-1622.

• The first pilgrimage to the Minidoka Internment National Monument (Hunt, Idaho), a three-day event, was undertaken by over 100 Japanese-American former World War II internees, their children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. (NY Times, 6/30/03)

• Columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, commenting on President Bush’s July trip to Africa, noted that, although the President visited Gorée Island off Africa’s west coast and called slavery “one of the greatest crimes in history,” he failed to express either any personal sense of shame and disgust or formally apologize for slavery. A similar point was made by Adam Goodheart, a fellow at Washington College in Chestertown, MD: “Though it might have seemed perplexing – not least to the Senegalese – that America’s leaders need to go to another continent in order to address an issue rooted so deeply in own history, that geographic awkwardness speaks volumes about the odd place that slavery currently occupies in American culture and memory. Despite the frequent attention given to the subject, slavery is still somehow held at arm’s length, or even an ocean’s breadth, away. There are any number of sites in this country far more intimately connected to America’s slave past than Gorée Island is.” (; NY Times, 7/13/03)

• Romania’s government reversed its denial that any Holocaust took place inside the country’s borders, acknowledging that its former leaders deported and exterminated Romanian Jews during World War II. The Romanian government also signed an agreement allowing the Holocaust Museum in Washington to study Romanian archives about the Holocaust. (Contra Costa Times, 6/18/03)

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