When the issue of “German crimes in Greece during the Nazi occupation” is mentioned in Germany the response in pubs and the media – most German media outlets are on pub talk level themselves – are markedly aggressive. Even SPD leader and German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that demands for reparations were “stupid, to be honest”. On page 8 we publish a map documenting damages caused by German occupying forces in Greece. Below we answer the most common claims made in German pubs and elsewhere when the issue of reparations for Greece and financial compensation for Nazi victims is brought up.
Claim: What happened in Greece during WW2 was a typical side effect of war in general. It is sad but normal.
Answer FCH: This is absolutely false. Nazi crimes committed during WW2 were unparalleled and cannot be compared with “classic” events during wartime. Established international law was systematically broken (Hague Land Warfare Convention; Geneva Convention). No comparable crimes were committed by enemies of the Nazi regime. To a small degree such a comparison can be made with Japan. This does not change anything about the scale of German war crimes though.
Claim: But all of these things happened a long time ago?
Answer FCH: Cases of genocide and crimes against humanity are brought before courts of law even decades after they happened. And rightly so. In 2015 one court decision in the Netherlands caught the public eye. A court of law in Den Haag accepted the validity of relatives of Indonesian freedom fighters who got murdered by the then colonial power Holland between 1946 and 1949. More recently a number of former Nazis were brought to justice for crimes committed between 1940 and 1945. One has to ask the return question: How can it be that Germany failed to look at these crimes for 70 years without bringing those responsible to justice?
Claim: Germany has paid compensation and reparations a long time ago. Greece also received a lot of money.
Answer FCH: Not true. Germany should have paid a huge sum of reparations to Greece on the basis of the inter-allied reparations conference which took place in Paris between the years of 1945/46. There, the Greek side underlined its demands amongst other things with the document published in this FCH edition on page 8. But only a fraction of the estimated sum got paid. The largest amount of 115 billion Deutsche Mark (DM) got paid in 1961. There was a fatal context to this: Max Merten, convicted to a long term prison sentence in Greece for being the leading organiser of the deportation of Greek Jewish people into the extermination camps, was bought free this way by the Bonn government. In February 1953 Germany signed the London debt agreement alongside the western powers (USA, UK and France). This postponed the question of reparations until such a time when German re-unification was to take place at a later stage with a peace supposed to be signed in such a case. In contrast to this no peace-treaty was signed when re-unification happened rather unexpectedly in 1990. This was deliberate. Since then German governments claim rather one-sidedly that the reparations issue “is barred by the statute of limitations”. Greece never agreed with this.
Claim: But if we give in to Greek demands other countries might get the same idea…
Answer FCH: This observation is justified. Nazi-Germany had occupied that largest part of Europe. Huge demands for reparations resulted from this. Some countries received partial reparations as a settlement for damages caused during the war. France for example received reparations in south-west Germany and the Saar-area. The Soviet Union and Poland received reparations in the GDR. In some cases there were legally binding agreements. There were usually no such agreements concerning the issue of compensation for Nazi crimes. As brutal as the Nazi regime was in Greece – it was even more brutal in Poland, in Belarus and the entire Soviet Union. The Jewish population was at the receiving hand of the most brutal treatment. Including in Greece, by the way. See the deportation of the Jewish population in Thessaloniki (page 7). To note that the issue of reparations and compensation for Nazi crimes has not been solved in a number of countries should not lead to a position of not raising the issue in Greece though.
Claim: With its demands the Greek government only wants to “offset” its own debt with the supposed reparations.
Answer FCH: Not true. Official Greek government statements point to another direction. In May Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias stated in an interview that it is not about demands for a concrete sum of money. Instead he argued for a “council of the wise” consisting of German and Greek personalities who in a fair exchange should work towards a solution. Most Greeks mainly want the German government to accept its moral obligation and guilt. But German Foreign Minister Steinmeier brusquely rejected this conciliatory proposal.
Claim: But why to the Greek raise these demands NOW?
Answer FCH: Firstly it is not true that the Greek government is raising these demands “now”. Several Greek governments repeatedly raised this issue, including the previous Samaras government. It created the parliamentary commission whose results were published in recent weeks. But there is of course a reason why this is being debated so strongly since the beginning of 2015. This reason is the German government’s attitude towards the newly elected government in Greece and the Greek debt question in particular. Germany is giving no quarter in this situation. Especially Schaeuble seems to be without mercy and full of cynicism. Considering the background of German history it is understandable that people feel bitter about the German government’s attitude and the arrogance of power which is seen as a continuity.