Bundestag report reopens Greek Nazi compensation claim

German position ‘justifiable but by no means mandatory’, report says

A ceremony in Athens marks the anniversary of the liberation of city from Nazi occupation. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

A ceremony in Athens marks the anniversary of the liberation of city from Nazi occupation. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

 

Germany’s continued dismissal of Greek claims for second World War reparations may not be as legally watertight as previously assumed, according to an official Bundestag study.

Greece insists that Germany never fully met its war reparations obligations, claims that reached new levels of urgency during bilateral tensions over the Greek bailout. Last April, the Greek parliament issued a verbal note of a reparations bill as high as €300 billion. Successive German governments have insisted all legal and financial obligations to Greece have been dealt with.

But a new report says that “the position of the German government is justifiable under international law, but by no means mandatory”.

In 1941, the Nazis forced Greece to cover the cost of its own occupation. From 1943 Berlin began making repayments to Athens but the Nazi regime left behind unpaid debts of 476 million Reichsmark, or about €3.5 billion.

While Greece believes this loan is outstanding, with interest, West Germany contributed to two postwar reparations deals that saw industrial goods and more than €2 billion transferred to the Greek state.

Any further reparation payments, including the forced Greek loan, were postponed at the 1953 London debt conference until a permanent peace treaty was signed by the Allies and Germany – a peace treaty that is still outstanding. Berlin says the 1990 unification agreement, recognised by Greece, settled the matter for good.

Incompatible laws

However, the report highlights an incompatibility between Greek and German law on this matter. While Greek law and courts recognise wartime compensation both at state and individual level, this is not the case in Germany.

“German courts reject individual claims for compensation for war losses already in the preliminary phase,” said the report.

Greece is not the only country with outstanding war reparations claims with Germany. Poland’s ruling national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party insists Berlin has outstanding reparations payments with Warsaw.

Germany denies these claims, too, pointing to two Polish renunciations of reparations in 1953 and 1970. But PiS officials insist these agreements are invalid as they were signed by the communist People’s Republic under pressure from the Soviet Union.

Unlike Poland, however, Greece never signed an agreement renouncing its reparation claims on Germany. Some legal minds suggest this could be interpreted as an open claim while others insist that, almost 80 years on, its silence qualifies as a tacit consent.

“While there are no sound argumentation lines for Polish reparations claims, not even in the legal expert report of the Sejm [parliament],” the report concludes, “the situation regarding Greece is far less clear-cut”.

The Bundestag’s legal service suggested the matter should be regulated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. But Niels Annen, junior minister at the federal foreign office, said that “none of the parties intends to refer the question of Greek reparations claims to the ICJ”.

Germany’s opposition Left Party, which commissioned the report, has called on the German government to respond to the Greek reparations demands and “no longer evade its historical responsibility”.