Claims for wartime compensation justified, says German historian

Hagen Fleischer is convinced that Greece's case for reparations from Germany remains open, 68 years after the war

For decades, West Germany used postwar division as an excuse not to engage in discussions on paying compensation and repaying the wartime debt only to say after unification that it was too late to deal with the issue, points out Prof Hagen Fleischer

Hagen Fleischer recommends Greece focus on the issue of the forced wartime loan Hagen Fleischer recommends Greece focus on the issue of the forced wartime loan Greece's demands for wartime reparations from Germany – particularly in regard to loans – are justified, a German historian who has lectured in Greece for 30 years has said.

Hagen Fleischer, professor emeritus of history at the University of Athens, told Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster, that he is convinced that the issue of reparations is not yet settled 68 years after the end of the Second World War.

Last week, Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said that international justice – and not comments by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – would determine whether Greece is entitled to war reparations which, according to reports, could run to €162bn.

Possible claims include reparations for casualties and material assets as well as compensation for a loan the central Bank of Greece was forced to give the Nazi regime in 1942. According to reports, those claims could amount to €108bn in compensation for the destruction of Greece's economy and €54bn for a forced wartime loan to Germany, both adjusted for inflation.

Fleischer, whose ground-breaking dissertation Crown and Swastika (1978) described for the first time – and in forensic detail – the German occupation of Greece, said that for decades West Germany had used postwar division as an excuse not to engage in discussions on paying compensation and repaying the wartime debt.

"Before 1990, Germany tended to point out [that] it was too soon, because Germany was divided and it was the entire country that had gone to war, not just one half. So the issue was supposed to be canned until Germany was again reunified," said Fleischer.

After reunification, however, "Germany's response was suddenly, 'So much time has passed – now it's too late," he added.

Fleischer, who once said it was an “irony of history” that it would be he, a German, who would be the first historian to lecture on the history of the Second World War at a Greek university, said he doubts the validity of Germany's objection that all reparation claims were settled by a 1960 bilateral accord when Germany paid 115m Deutschmarks in reparation payments to the Greek victims of Nazi terror in accord with a bilateral reparation agreement.

The Netherlands, which suffered much fewer losses, received a larger amount of money – Hagen Fleischer

But the 1960 reparations must be put into context, Fleischer told DW. "The Netherlands, which suffered much fewer losses, received a larger amount of money."

Germany argues that the 1960 payment settled all claims definitively, but Greece points to the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts stipulating that payment obligations from the war were to be deferred until "after the signing of a peace treaty" between Germany and the victorious allies. That was signed in 1990 between the West and East Germany and the Big Four - UK, France, the USA and the Soviet Union. 

Focus on the forced loan

But it is precisely the forced loan that should be regarded separately from any other claims, Fleischer told Deutsche Welle.

The forced occupation loan was imposed by the occupying German and Italian forces on Greece under the terms of a unilateral decision which they took in Rome on 14 March 1942, and which was subsequently presented to the collaborationist government in Athens.

Under the agreement, the Germans and Italians forced the collaborationist government to pay them 1.5bn drachmas per month in occupation costs. About nine months later, the amount of the forced loan was raised to 8bn drachmas on a monthly basis, which was supposed to be repaid at a later stage to Greece with a zero interest rate.

Fleischer told Deutsche Welle that the Greek government should forget about reparations and focus on the loan.

For "practical reasons", asserting reparation claims is a dead-end street, as no German government would risk such a precedent, he said.

But, as he pointed out, the occupiers recognised their loan debt of 476m reichsmarks, then the German currency, and had actually started repayment shortly before the end of the war.

Today, that loan would amount to about €7bn without interest, the historian believes.

He added German loans after the war generally had a six-percent interest rate, but even at a conservative three percent, Greece could be looking at a three-digit billion sum. The fact that the Nazis recognised the loan is also an advantage for Greece, he said.

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