The doubling of Israel’s population during its first five years of statehood causes enormous strain on the economy. Austerity and rationing measures are introduced for food, clothing, furnishings, and housing. Reparations from West Germany, which begin in 1952, help ease these austerity measures, which remain in place until 1959. However, great controversy swirls about whether Israel should accept compensation from Germany for Nazi persecution of Jews and confiscation of their property.
In an impassioned speech, Menachem Begin, the leader of the opposition Herut Party, staunchly opposes accepting German reparations. Nearly 15,000 Israelis, led by Begin, as part of a greater rally against the agreement with West Germany, march in Jerusalem in protest. In the end, hundreds of protesters are arrested. Despite vocal opposition, the Knesset approves German reparations, which give the Israeli economy a much needed boost. Sums in excess of $10 billion are provided to Israelis and Israel. In addition, Israel develops a large export market in West Germany. The funds West Germany provides play a significant role in stabilizing the fledgling Israeli economy.
The trade relations between Israel and West Germany that come out of the reparations agreement begin a process of diplomatic, social and economic rapprochement between the nations. By 1959, West Germany begins to supply the young Jewish state with much needed military technology, and in 1961, thousands of young Germans begin coming to Israel as volunteers to help in social services. As tensions and mistrust thaw, formal diplomatic relations become imminent in the early 1960s.
Slowly, and with relative caution, Israel warms up to the idea of an elevated and official cooperation with West Germany. On May 12, 1965, the two states exchange notes establishing official diplomatic relations, marking the beginning of a long-standing and often mutually beneficial relationship. In referencing the Holocaust, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol writes in Israel’s letter, “The decision of our two Governments has been taken against a somber historical background and a stormy political one… I share our hope that our common decision will prove to be an important step towards a better future.”
Following the announcement, several Arab States, including Egypt, Iraq and Syria break off diplomatic relations with West Germany. Asher Ben-Nathan, a key member in the hunt for Adolf Eichmann and the former Director-General of the Ministry of Defense, is named Israel’s first ambassador to Bonn. West Germany appoints Dr. Rolf Pauls as its first Ambassador to Israel. The appointment of Pauls, who was a career officer in the German army, including during World War II, is objected by many in Israel and debated in the Knesset. When it is learned that Pauls, while a German officer was not a Nazi and had even worked against the Nazis, his appointment is confirmed.
The photo shows Dr. Rolf Pauls (left) with Israeli President Zalman Shazar and Foreign Minster Golda Meir after presenting his credentials as West Germany’s first Ambassador to Israel on August 19, 1965. Photo Source: Government Press Office of Israel, Moshe Pridan.