In 1960, the then Federal Republic of Germany paid Greece 115 million Deutschmarks on account of compensation for Nazi crimes. Greek governments stated that this was only a fraction of what is due on account of loss of life, damaged infrastructure, and the repayment of a forced loan the Nazis extracted on Greece in 1942. Recent statements by leading German politicians seem to indicate that reparations are now a possibility. Both the law and fairness suggest payment is the right thing to do.
On February 8, 2015, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared in front of the Greek parliament, officially demanding Germany’s payment. Tsipras spoke about Athens’s “historical obligation” to claim reparation from Germany for the death and destruction resulting from Germany’s occupation of Greece. “Greece has a moral obligation to our people, to history, to all European peoples who fought and gave their blood against Nazism,” he added.
Greece’s claims, allegedly amounting to some $303 billion, have been recognized by the Greek and Italian highest courts, as well as by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Yet, collecting such debt is obstructed by Germany’s immunity of jurisdiction, a principle of international law impeding under most circumstances for a country to sit in judgment for the misdeeds of another. But it is the historical and political legitimacy of the claim what counts, beyond the plausible legal arguments that support the claim for reparations.
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Greece’s demands stand on two different factual grounds. In 1942, the occupying Nazi regime forced the Greek Central Bank to loan Nazi Germany 476 million Reichsmarks at 0% interest. On October 3, 1943 Nazi soldiers murdered 92 people, including 34 children, in the city of Liguiades. In June 1944, Nazi troops slaughtered 281 men, women and the elderly at Diostomo, a small town near Delphi.
The rule that a State’s violation of international humanitarian law is a compensable wrong constitutes a long-standing principle of customary international law, crystallized in the 1907 Hague Convention (IV) and its Additional Protocol I. This long-standing principle has been put into practice in numerous post-conflict settlements, subsequently codified in the Draft Articles on State Responsibility as an international obligation “to compensate for the damage caused…insofar as such damage is not made good by restitution.” Numerous official statements and a good a number of resolutions by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly have confirmed its binding force.
Germany argues that the 1990 Two-Plus-Four Agreement, a treaty concluded between both Germanies immediately prior to German reunification and the former Allied countries (United States, Great Britain, France and Russia) had put a formal end to all WWII claims for reparations against united Germany. Greece disagrees, asking for discussions between Greece and unified Germany. Even if Greece’s total claims are not accepted, Germany should not refuse to engage in further discussions, seeking an acceptable settlement. This is also Germany’s historical obligation, which is also morally owed to the millions of Germans still seeking to close this still inconclusive chapter of their past. As German President Joachim Gauck stated recently, “We are descendants of those who, during WWII, left a path of destruction, in Greece, among other places. Something that, to our shame, we ignored for a long time.”