THE BLOG

Are the Greek Claims for War Reparations Justified?

For the last few years the issue of Germany still owing major war reparations to Greece has resurfaced with an increasing intensity. Some of the press reports and some of the comments to related reports question the validity of the Greek claims. This questioning includes:

The claims have been written off by the London Agreement of 1953.

Article 5, paragraph 2, of the London Agreement of 1953 states:

"Consideration of claims arising out of the second World War by countries which were at war or were occupied by Germany during the war, and by nationals of such countries, against the Reich and agencies of the Reich, including costs of German occupation. ... shall be deferred until the final settlement of the problem of reparation."

Thus, the obligation of Germany to pay reparations was not written off by the London Agreement of 1953.

No claims can be made so many years after the end of the war.

Greece has demanded payment of the war reparations, awarded by the Paris Conference of 1946, as well as of a forced occupation loan, in 1945, 1946, 1947, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1987, and 1995. At the London Conference of 1953, Germany sought and succeeded to defer payments. It was successfully argued that the German government should not have to assume the obligation for the entire debt since it represented only West Germany, and settlement of claims was postponed until Germany would be reunited.

Germany was unified in 1990 with an agreement between Germany, the USSR, Great Britain, the USA and France. On July 23, 1990, the German magazine Der Spiegel wrote that with this Agreement, Germany avoided the nightmare of a peace agreement, which would have brought to the fore demands of reparations from all directions. In other words, with this Agreement Germany sought to circumnavigate article 5, paragraph 2 of the London Agreement.

Today's Germans cannot be held responsible for reparations.

The demand of Greece for payment has been made continuously from the end of the war up to date, to the generation responsible for the crimes and to their children. It is the Germans that requested and succeeded, with the London Agreement of 1953, to postpone payment of their obligations, and transfer them to their children and grandchildren. These children and grandchildren benefited greatly from the deferral of payments. Germany's affluence today is greatly due to the fact that Greece and other countries accepted to defer payment of reparations, and to give the opportunity to the Germans that committed the crimes to rebuilt and build a better future for their children, while the Greeks had to build on the ruins left behind by the German war machinery after a brutal and completely unprovoked war.

Reactions of the German government

In an interview to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini (May 12, 2013), the German ambassador to Greece, Wolfgang Dold, said:

"On this subject there is a legal aspect and a moral and political one. Concerning the legal aspect, the essence is that there is no legal base for Greece to claim reparations from Germany. The legal reasons are complex and I would not like to elaborate because of this complexity and because I have to be absolutely accurate... I understand that there are different approaches on the legality of the claims... as Germans we always accepted our moral responsibility for what happened in Greece.... when we go to all these villages whose inhabitants were martyred, we completely understand the magnitude of the sorrow inflicted, because the wounds are still open. On a moral basis, I understand that Greece can claim and Germany can do more to prove that undertakes responsibility of her past.... The official position of the federal government is that there is no difference between the forced occupation loan and the remaining claims for reparations.... As a lawyer I know that there are some legal questions that need to be answered. That is, if the claims have a legal basis, and if they do, whether they have been satisfied, but even if they have not been satisfied, if they can be satisfied although they exist."

The ambassador claimed that there is no legal base for Greece to claim reparations for reasons that are complex, and he would not like to elaborate, because he could not be absolutely accurate, but he understands that there are different approaches on the legality of the claims. He stated: "as Germans we always accepted our moral responsibility for what happened in Greece." Acceptance of moral responsibility is not just a rhetorical utterance, or hiding behind legal complexities of an international legal system which in many respects has been designed to protect the powerful. Acceptance of responsibility means that everything possible is done to alleviate the consequences of the crimes.

He understands "that Greece can claim and Germany can do more to prove that undertakes responsibility of her past." He stated the official position of his government of no differentiation between the forced occupation loan and the claims of reparations, although even Hitler had recognized the obligation of Germany to pay back the loan. As a lawyer he knows "that there are some legal questions that need to be answered." This contradicts the statement of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (April 1, 2012) that "the question of war reparations is no longer an issue," and that of Mr. Schaeuble, finance minister (April 11, 2013), that "this matter has been resolved long ago," without saying how. Then he further stated: "but even if they have not been satisfied, if they can be satisfied, although they exist." How can this be reconciled with his claim and with that of many German officials that Germany always accepted moral responsibility for what happened in Greece? What has been and is asked of Germany is, as a matter of justice, to pay her obligations to Greece, which is within the limits of what can be satisfied, unless acceptance of moral responsibility is just empty rhetoric.

Subscribe to the World Post email.