The question of WWII reparations is still open, and Germany should pay up, says historian Karl Heinz Roth. But Poland, Greece and other countries would have to cooperate.
DW: The governments in Athens and Warsaw do not consider the issue of reparations to be over. What are the most significant differences in reparations policy and debt between Greece and Poland?
Karl Heinz Roth: The destruction in Poland was undoubtedly greatest where the Germans invaded with systematic planning. Under the Generalplan Ost, they wanted to Germanize Poland. The situation was different in Greece, where the Germans only sought to set up naval and air bases in Thessaloniki and Crete. They were also searching for potential collaborators on the side. The Nazis were overwhelmed by the vehemence of the [Greek] resistance and responded with senseless massacres. But [unlike in Poland] there was no planning behind their actions.
In addition, there are the figures. In Poland, 5.4 million civilians were killed by the Nazis, in Greece it was 330,000. The quantitative difference also applies to other aspects. Both Poland and Greece have suffered the fate of the so-called “little allies.” They were pushed to the margins in reparations policy, the effects of which are still felt today.
You opened your book with the topic of reparations for Greece at the beginning of the debt crisis and you posed the idea that the debt be settled in accordance with the loans forced on the Greek national bank by the Nazis during WWII. How realistic was that suggestion?
The idea had some things going for it but I have moved on. The proposal came from economists, among others, who wanted to remind Berlin of the massive debt relief [the then-German government received]. In the London Debt Agreement, over 50 percent of all the German government’s debt was canceled.
Meanwhile, I have come to believe that there are different factors at play. Compensation is an ethical issue and should not be linked to current economic problems. In the new edition [of the book], I am also in discussion with economists who, when calculating their reparation debt, converted the calculated value of the destruction and humanitarian damage into a fictitious loan and then added interest. This commercializes the reparation debt. We have refrained from including interest in our own calculations. This [omission] is sometimes disadvantageous for reparation creditors, but [doing so] is indisputable.