Greece reopens question of WWII reparations and forced occupation loan

Greek President Pavlopoulos - eKathimerini

Reuters – Greece is to seek reparations for its victims of World War Two and repayment for a loan it was forced to make to its Nazi occupiers, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos told his visiting German counterpart on Thursday.

Pavlopoulos, who met Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Athens, said that such demands fell under the framework of “resistance against those who want to return to a nightmarish past”, hinting at the rise of the far-right in Europe ahead of EU elections.

“We consider Greece’s demands over the occupation loan and war reparations legally active and judicially claimable,” Pavlopoulos said.
Germany has apologized for Nazi-era crimes during the war but has said it is not willing to discuss reparations. It has denied owing anything to Greece for World War Two since it paid Athens the sum of 115 million Deutschmarks in 1960.

Hitler’s forces occupied Greece in 1941-1944 and extracted a so-called “occupation loan” used to help finance its campaign in North Africa. Runaway inflation followed, and tens of thousands of people starved to death.

Greece was forced to hand over 476 million reichsmarks, which Greek officials have estimated at 6-10 billion euros today.

World War Two reparations resurfaced as an emotional issue during Greece’s period of bailouts when austerity-hit Greeks, evoking past injustices, blamed their biggest creditor Germany for painful cuts associated with three international bailouts.

During World War Two, about a thousand Greek villages were razed and over 250,000 people killed in reprisals by German troops trying to crush the Greek resistance, which had liberated large areas of the country.

The occupation ruined the Greek economy and brought about terrible hardships for the Greek civilian population. Much of Greece was subjected to enormous destruction of its industry (80% of which was destroyed), infrastructure (28% destroyed), ports, roads, railways and bridges (90%), forests and other natural resources (25%)and loss of civilian life (7.02% – 11.17% of its citizens). Over 40,000 civilians died in Athens alone from starvation, tens of thousands more died because of reprisals by Nazis and collaborators – (Extract fromWikipedia)

Steinmeier visited the site of a Nazi concentration camp in the Athens suburb of Haidari where thousands perished. “We honour these dead, and above all, apologize,” the German president said during a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a briefing on Wednesday: “We think that the issue of German reparations has been finally settled legally and politically. The Greek government has not yet officially pushed for them.”

Tsipras said that Steinmeier’s visit was a chance for a fresh start in bilateral relations, but added: “Of course, this doesn’t mean that we must forget or that we can sweep any of our differences from the distant past under the carpet.”

Greek governments have sought reparations from Germany in the past for crimes committed during the Nazi occupation, but Berlin has always responded with an abrupt denial. But the latest Greek demand has been gaining momentum and even found support in the Bundestag. Tho leading Social Democrats, Gesine Schwan Ralf Stegner, an SPD vice-chairman and Anton Hofreiter, parliamentary chief of the opposition Greens were quoted in the online version of Der Spiegel saying “The [German] government’s legal argument isn’t convincing,”

At the same time, legal experts in Greece regard the recent claim, particularly that of the occupation loan claim as particularly strong as it is well documented and even Hitler’s government made moves to start repayments towards the end of the war.

One of the reasons why the German government is wary of reopening the question of reparations is that Warsaw also plans to submit a claim for reparations  far higher than that of Greece and there may be other waiting for a decision before they make their claims