Lily Gardner Feldman has been studying German reconciliation for four decades. Image: Tony Richards
A closer look at Germany's compensation programs, which started in the 1950s and will continue for the foreseeable future
In early March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Japan, her first trip to the country in seven years. She met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss climate change, terrorism, and free trade ahead of this summer's G-7 economic summit. She mostly followed the anticipated script, including innocuous photo ops at stopovers like the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. But to the surprise of some and probable irritation of her host, no less than four times during the two-day visit, Merkel brought up how her country rehabilitated its international reputation after World War II by reconciling with Nazi victims and acknowledging the atrocities Germany had committed. At an event in Tokyo organized by the left-leaning newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Merkel referred to a 1985 speech by then West German president Richard von Weizsäcker, who called Germany's wartime defeat a "day of liberation." She added, "We Germans will never forget the hand of reconciliation that was extended to us after all the suffering that our country had brought to Europe and the world."
Her repeated references to German reconciliation, many contend, were not-so-veiled jabs at Japan's unwillingness to acknowledge the horrors it had committed during the war. Merkel even pointedly addressed the taboo subject of Japan's "comfort women, " young girls of Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Dutch descent forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war. The timing and content of her remarks were notable, as Prime Minister Abe plans to give an address on August 15 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific, amid rising speculation that he may water down Japan's past apologies for its aggression in Asia.