In a recent interview in Bremen based Weser Kurier, German historian Karl Heinz Roth notes that Nazi Germany devastated occupied Greece killing tens of thousands, destroying almost all infrastructure, and torching villages and private property, and therefore owes Greece almost 200 billion in reparations.
Mr. Roth, during the Second World War, the Nazis committed cruel crimes in Greece. What happened then?
Karl Heinz Roth: The Germans systematically plundered and materially ruined Greece during the occupation from April 1941 to October 1944. For example, they have taken away the entire tobacco crops and brought the industry under their control, as far as it was important for the German defense industry. Three quarters of the Greek merchant fleet were confiscated or destroyed by the Germans. The so-called scorched earth policy ultimately led to the Greek infrastructure being almost completely destroyed.
They also speak of a huge demographic catastrophe.
The Germans killed at least 330,000 civilians during the occupation. 140 000 people were starved to death, more than 90 000 people were killed as hostages or in reprisals against the civilian population in rural areas. 59,000 members of the Jewish communities were deported.
The Greek parliament recently decided that Germany should pay 280 billion euros in reparations for war crimes. Are the claims justified?
Politically as well as under international law, yes. And without restriction.
Is Greece about money or rather about the principle?
First of all, it’s about the principle. Germany is in need of reparation and has to face this guilt.
But do not reparation claims expire after more than 70 years?
In international law, there is no statute of limitations.
The Federal Government sees that differently. There the topic is legally and politically completed”.
The reparation question is not completed. In the 1950s there were a number of international treaties stating that the Federal Republic pays partial compensation, but the question of reparation itself has yet to be clarified at a general conference or under a peace treaty. When in 1990 the de facto peace treaty, the two plus four treaty, came in connection with the German unification process, the question of reparations was excluded. Nevertheless, the federal government says that with this contract, the reparations issue is finally settled. Until 1990 there was consolation, after 1990 “it all vanished”. This is not sustainable under international law. Greece did not sign this treaty and did not sit at the negotiating table. Therefore, the contract is not valid for Greece.
You were just talking about partial compensation that has already been paid. What’s it all about?
Under a global agreement, 115 million marks were paid out to the surviving victims – a minimum payment. According to today’s value, that does not even equal 300 euros per capita. That was alms.
What is the total amount of 280 billion euro estimated by the Greek Court of Auditors?
About half of this refer to the reimbursement of material damages, the remainder to reparations for the survivors of the massacres and their descendants, and compensation for former forced laborers who were transported to the German Reich. There is also a special calculation of the robbed archaeological goods and works of art that were stolen during the occupation. The Greek Court of Auditors relies on traditional archival sources. We have checked them very carefully and can confirm the data that has been collected there.
Nevertheless, you and your colleagues have calculated a different amount.
The problem with the Greek calculations is that the experts treated the German reparations debt as a kind of unpaid loan and thus accrues interest. That’s not the way to go. To determine today’s value, one should start from the inflation rate. Our calculation is therefore lower, but still at 190 billion euros.
Realistically: Will a three-digit number of billions of euros flow from Germany to Greece?
No. It’s not just about Greece. Other formerly occupied countries were heavily destroyed – Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia, to name but a few. If they all raise reparation claims, the total bill for Germany will be gigantic. The sum must therefore be negotiated so that it is feasible.
What do you suggest?
We have based our calculation on a number that corresponds to the transfer of West German property and subsidies to the new Länder. From 1990 to 2010 that was about 1.2 trillion euros. That did not hurt anyone. A repayment within 15 to 20 years is economically possible. However, reparations creditors like Greece would then have to accept that the payment will be reduced to about one-third of their actual claims. Greece would then get between 60 and 70 billion euros.
The federal government is not yet ready to talk. What would have to happen to change that?
Greece, if it wants to have a realistic chance, should join forces with the other countries and exert political pressure. If the affected countries act skillfully, the Federal Republic has to retreat from its categorical no.