Atonement is a state practice that comprises an official political apology and the offer of reparation payments to former victims of mass atrocities, war crimes, and human rights abuses. Despite being considered the moral and right thing to do, atonement has occurred only once at the state level: between West Germany and Israel in 1952. Whereas existing explanations view the West German pathway after the Holocaust as either an ethical choice or a domestic policy induced by U.S. pressure, atonement can also be a political decision. Politicians may give official apologies and pay reparations because such practices promise tangible political benefits. An investigation of the West German–Israeli case and a comparison with two non-atoning perpetrators of World War II, Austria and Japan, illustrate the plausibility of these claims. Atonement emerged as a bilateral strategy between West Germany and Israel because it represented a politically expedient option for both countries. This finding offers insights into when politicians may pursue atonement in other cases and points to a potential avenue toward long-term international stability and durable peace.

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