Help Greece, but Forget About Reparations from Germany

03/23/2015 03:24 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015
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the european

BERLIN -- In Germany, a debate rages about pride and prejudice: Do we owe Greece reparations for the occupation during World War II? "Morally speaking, we do," says a minority. "The demand is legally void," responds the government and many legal scholars. Which side shall we take?

It can't be denied that Germany's reparation payments following 1945 were meager at best. That was no mistake but a deliberate decision, however: The victorious powers were keen not to repeat the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty, which imposed drastic payments on Germany following World War I -- payments that were so unbearably high that they led to the eventual collapse of the newly founded Weimar Republic. After 1945, the allied powers remembered that lesson and enabled the emergence of Germany as we know it today.

"We should be ashamed of hunger in Greece"

Following the war, Germany accepted the olive branch and understood that reconciliation implied responsibility: An everlasting responsibility that grew out of culpability being forgiven. But that peaceful foundation of contemporary Europe is under attack when parts of the Greek government attack Germany. There are plenty of reasons for the peril Greece faces today, but German occupation between 1941 and 1944 surely isn't one of them.

When culpability is forgiven, when it is relegated to the sidelines of legal discussion, it shouldn't get revived -- even less so for political considerations. Germany's responsibility towards Greece didn't grow out of the war but out of the reconciliation that followed it.

The European project is one of solidarity. We are a community bound by destiny. Our roots run deep, way beyond the time of the World War. Was there to be a "Grexit," Greece would remain part of the European family and the European Union -- which is more than just a currency union, after all. The responsibility to help the Greek people get back on their feet arises from different reasons than those which made us protect both Greece and our entire currency union from the fallout of the lending crisis.

As people inhabiting the same continent and sharing a common cultural, philosophical and religious legacy, we need to care for one another and ensure a standard of living congruent with the values we propagate. We should therefore be ashamed of the hunger many people in Greece bear today. And we should forgive those trying to drive us apart.

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