German and Greek shame

By William Mallinson
Apr. 7, 2024

On 6 April, I attended a demonstration outside the German Embassy in Athens, well organised by my long-time friend Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, intended to pressurise Germany into paying Greece the billons that it owes it in wartime reparations. I was surprised to find not even one Greek member of parliament, let alone a minister, at the demonstration, given that the Greek government has been demanding reparations for years. Before I comment on the question, let me specify the damage that Germany did, what it owes to the people of Greece, on the Greek government’s attitude, and on Germany itself.

Damage

The seizure and confiscation of food resulted in 300,000 deaths during the winter of 1941-1942, with a further 300,000 dying by the end of the occupation from starvation, disease, massacres and executions. The population of Greece was reduced by 13.5%. The German armed forces destroyed 1,770 towns and villages, indulging in 131 massacres, for example at Kalavrita, where 1,460 males aged between 12 and 90 were killed, and at Distomo where 117 women,111 men and 53 children were slaughtered. A Swede, Professor Sture Linner, who was in the red Cross delegation that entered the village some days after the massacre, described the scene thus: ‘A village in flames, devoid of life, completely destroyed; genitals cut off and placed in corpses’ mouths and women with breasts cut off and crushed genitals.’

Compensation to victims of war crimes amounts today to one trillion Euros, if one takes interest rates into account, and the 115 million marks paid to victims so far under the terms of the Paris Peace Conference of 1946. As regards war reparations for the destruction of the infrastructure of the country, the Paris Conference decided to award reparations of 6.7 billion USD in 1938 values. This amounts today to 595 billion Euros. Yet Germany has paid Greece only 20 million dollars. Nor has she repaid the occupation loan, which now amounts to 506 billion Euros.

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As if the above is not enough, 8,500 archaeological treasures and 460 paintings were stolen by the German armed forces, after the looting of 87 archaeological sites, and handed to the German government. These items were never returned and are being displayed in German museums and private collections. These items must be returned.

Debt

There is no excuse for the continuing refusal of Germany to fulfill its obligations towards Greece. Germany has even invoked the 2+4 Treaty concerning the reunification of the two Germanies (Moscow 1990) by stating that this treaty has totally resolved the issue of reparations. However, the Scientific Committee of the Bundestag in a report published in 2019 admits that Greece has never dropped f its claims. As far as the 2+4 Treaty is concerned, the report states: ‘Reparations are not mentioned in the text of the treaty. Greece, as a third country that did not participate in the negotiations of this treaty, should have agreed in writing on the undesirable consequences that affected it.’ This is specious wriggling.

Greek Impotence and German Attitudes

Although in 2015, Greece’s justice minister, Nikos Paraskevopoulos, said Athens was prepared to approve a court ruling to seize German property, including the Goethe Institute, the German Archaeological Institute, German schools and holiday homes if Berlin refused to pay compensation, Greece’s attitude has now become less robust, weak even, with the government simply stating last year: ‘The government’s position on war reparations and the occupation loan is clear and was expressed in the prime minister’s meeting last year with the German chancellor. We look forward to a discussion and resolution with the German government, recognizing the difficulties and pending legal issues.’

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German attitudes have however proved slightly schizophrenic: although the government in Berlin claims that any such claims have long-since ‘lost their justificatory basis,’ there seems to have been a slight change of heart in the German polity. Germany’s Green and Left parties have strongly criticised their government’s refusal to be drawn into negotiations, and at a recent parliamentary in the presence of the Greek Ambassador, they called for a change of course, while the vice president of the Bundestag, the Greens’ Claudia Roth, said she was ashamed at Germany’s attitude, with Left lawmaker Heike Hänsel calling the government’s position ‘neither morally nor legally acceptable.’ Given the damage done to Greece by European Commissioner van der Leyen through the pedantic and extreme economic measures imposed on Greece, it now seems that the Mitsotakis government is pandering to Germany. Insultingly, van der Leyen, currently under investigation for corruption, has just launched her campaign for a second mandate at the European Commission, in Athens, at the 50th anniversary of Greece’s ruling New Democracy party event. She even used the occasion to attack Vladimir Putin and his European allies. And to add insult to injury, the supine Mitsotakis has nominated von der Leyen’s second bid for the EU Commission. Thus we have a new Greek-German partnership, obviously supported by Greece’s puppet-master the US.

To conclude

If there is ever to be any serious movement on the reparations question, it is likely to come from Germany rather than from the slavish Greek government. Up until very recently, Tolstoy’s observation about Germans still held true: ‘Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion – science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. […] The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth – science – which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.’ Tolstoy thereby draws attention to another trait, namely an excess of logic and an accompanying lack of flexibility.

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But it seems that some Germans are now becoming more critical and less pedantic (see above). Maybe they are slowly getting back to Schiller. It is this that may bode well for the reparations question, provided that Greece votes in a government that wishes to regain at least some of Greece’s non-existent sovereignty.

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