Reparations for WWII Atrocities – the Background (including the German satiric show exposing viral facts behind Greek reparation claim)
A VIRAL VIDEO BY A GERMAN SATIRE SHOW (DIE ANSTALT) EDUCATES PEOPLE ABOUT THE REAL BACKGROUND AND THE TRUE SITUATION OF THE GREEK REPARATIONS CLAIM.
April 12, 2015
Last week, many Germans came to an ugly realization. People had been so proud of how Germany dealt with the aftermath of WWII, the earnest self-questioning and rejection of nationalism, the many apologies. Now, many have been forced to realize that Germany has done too little in the way that matters most: compensating the surviving victims.
There have periodically been earnest newspaper articles and editorials on the subject of course, but most left it at “Germany paid in 1960” and “Greece is now inventing debt to save their economy”. However, last week a German satire TV show took it upon themselves to educate people about all that the German governments did to avoid supporting the victims of the Nazis and blocking prosecution of the war criminals. The key passage of that satire show was posted online even before it aired on TV, it went viral and more than 2 million Germans and 1 million Greeks have seen it so far. [Athenianvoice’s comment: After the Greek comedian Lakis Lazopoulos aired parts of it in his popular show “Al Tsantiri News”, over 4 million Greeks inside and outside Greece have seen it.]
It cuts deep; many foreign commenters expressed astonishment that this was shown on a major German public TV channel. (That Germans produced this show, applauded/’liked’ and made it go viral is the only thought comforting me.)I have added English subtitles for you:
(If you don’t see subtitles, experiment with the buttons on the bottom right. If subtitles are visible but not readable, use the B, W, + and – keys on your keyboard)
Watch the video now. Below, I’ll recap how Germans were led to believe that they had done the honourable thing.
The History of Reparations
The Allies agreed in 1945, at the Yalta Conference and also in the Potsdam Agreement, that Germany would have to pay reparations to the victors for the damages caused in WWII.
Initially, this was very chaotic: the Soviet Union granted Poland a large chunk of German territory and the Red Army dismantled everything they could in their occupied zone, entire factories, almost every railway track. The Western Allies did similarly – especially the Brits and French plundered the industries while Americans were more interested in patents and foreign moneys of German companies. Additionally, German POWs were not released at the end of the war but used as slave labour for several years.
This way of taking reparations put those countries at a disadvantage who had been victims of the Nazis but did not have an occupied zone in Germany from which to take their compensation. So in 1946, the Paris reparations agreement created the Inter-Allied Reparations Agency (IARA) in order to calculate the sum of reparations and their fair distribution. However, this proved very difficult, for example Guatemala demanded 85 million dollars even though it hadn’t seen any war action. All in all, the IARA received demands for 1260 billion deutschmarks, that is 16 times the German GDP of the time. Only a big peace conference could possibly sort out all demands – but East and West were already entering the Cold War, so this conference never happened.
Germany’s European Allies, including Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland, signed peace treaties in 1947 and paid reparations. The reparations were significantly reduced from what was initially demanded – for example only 360 million dollars instead of 32 billion dollars from Italy. Greece received 105 million dollars from Italy and 45 million dollars from Bulgaria, only Germany didn’t pay anything because there was no peace treaty yet.
1950 to 1990
Because of the Cold War, neither the USA nor the Soviet Union were interested in their economically-ruined German puppet states having to pay huge amounts of reparations to other countries. They probably also remembered the consequences of the crushing Versailles Treaty. Because of this, the 1953 London Debt Agreement postponed all reparations until “united Germany” would sign a peace treaty – knowing that such a day was more than unlikely. Additionally, the Western powers, including Greece, accepted a haircut of 50% on German pre-war and post-war debt, not including war debt. At the same time, the Soviet Union abated Germany’s entire reparation debt and forced their puppet government in Poland to do the same – which the Poles now say is not valid because it wasn’t the act of a sovereign government.
With West Germany becoming an economic strong-house in the 1960s, Western European states no longer wanted to wait for an unlikely-looking reunification in order to get their compensation. West Germany signed individual agreements with 12 nations, including France, Britain, Austria and Greece. These agreements were not agreements about reparations though, they only concerned voluntary compensations for individual groups of victims. The agreement with Greece brought 115 million Deutschmark for Greek victims of the Nazi racist ideology, that is Holocaust victims but not the thousands of victims of massacres or 300,000 victims of deliberately-induced famine.
By 1989, nobody was expecting the reunification and subsequent peace treaty anymore. In order to have a legal defense against having to pay reparations (Poland alone was demanding 200-537 billion deutschmarks), the German government insisted on not calling the Two Plus Four Treaty a peace treaty, even though that’s what it was. They didn’t even deny that that’s the reason they didn’t want it to be called a peace treaty.
France, Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union were fine with that – they had taken a lot of reparations from the occupied zones already, didn’t particularly want a lot of money to flow into the unstable Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union additionally received large concessions in exchange for not calling it a peace treaty and not allowing Poland a seat at the table. So there are doubts whether the Two Plus Four Treaty will stand up to judicial scrutiny, given that it was a treaty at the expense of third parties in their absence. (The German government argues that since countries like Greece later ‘acknowledged’ the treaty and didn’t sue against it, they thereby consented to drop their claims for reparations. Reparations were conspicuously not mentioned in the treaty.)
Greece originally claimed 7.2 billion dollars at the value of 1938 dollars from the IARA and then agreed to postpone them in the London Debt Agreement. Since then, there have been regular requests for Germany to pay its debts, so contrary to how it is presented in the media, this is not something the new Greek government made up on the spot.
This doesn’t mean that their current demand of 279 billion euros is necessarily justified – for example, part of that is to compensate for the ruined economy after the occupation, a difficult claim as the Hague Conventions only require compensations for violations of international humanitarian law, not for all damages of war.
It’s debatable whether Germany should pay the IARA reparations now, but at the very least Germany should stop self-righteously pointing its finger at Greeceand shouting “Rules are rules. Debts must be paid. No tricks!” … The German governments were quite happy to ignore debts and use all tricks in the book.
(The only thing easy to determine is the forced loan that Greek authorities had to give to the Nazis to finance the Wehrmacht’s African campaign. It is quite likely that an international court of justice would insist on it being paid. A loan is a loan, paying it back is not even part of the reparations question. According to the Greek government, that would be 10.3 billion euros in today’s currency.)
Compensation for the Surviving Victims
It is unlikely that an international court of justice could force Germany to pay compensation to massacre survivors like Mr Sfountouris from the video, because a) individuals cannot sue states and b) the 1960 payment of 115 million deutschmarks for victims of Nazi racism does not specify what should be done for victims of non-racist crimes against humanity such as the “revenge” massacres.
There is also the problem that demands have been postponed for so long, some might say they’re beyond the statute of limitations – but this didn’t preventNorway from agreeing to pay reparations to Roma for racist policies and suffering under Nazis just a few days ago.
No matter what the legal standing is, and no matter what kind of snowball effect can be expected from finally starting to paying compensations, it is clear thatGermany has a moral obligation to the victims and it has abominably ignored this obligation for far too long. As a country priding itself on its morality, it is shameful for Germany to use legal loopholes to avoid compensating survivors of the atrocities, even if these loopholes exist.
- My answer to someone asking “Does it make sense for you when Greece demands €279bn from Germany in Nazi war reparations?” (bottom half)
- German editorial from yesterday (not mine): Debt and Atonement – I am ashamed to be German
Posted on April 30, 2015, in Articles in English, Hot and tagged Current Events, ethics, EU, Germany, Government, Greece, Greek reparations claim, Human Rights, morals, Nazis, World News, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.