German President Joachim Gauck has stirred his government by remarking in an interview that Germany should at least “consider” demands by leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that the nation pay billions of euros in reparations for the Nazi occupation of Greece.
“We are not only people who are living in this day and age but we’re also the descendants of those who left behind a trail of destruction in Europe during World War Two — in Greece, among other places, where we shamefully knew little about it for so long,” Gauck said in an interview with German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “It’s the right thing to do for a history-conscious country like ours to consider what possibilities there might be for reparations.”
While he only went as far as to suggest “consideration” of the demand, this is further than the direct rejections other high-ranking German officials have issued. As Reuters recalls, the last time a German official mentioned the reparations demand, it was economic minister Sigmar Gabriel, who proclaimed them “stupid.”
Gauck, Reuters explains, “has little real power in Germany but a penchant for defying convention.” He is, however, extremely influential as the head of the Gauck Institute, which controls the Stasi files.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor and head of state Angela Merkel, clarified that Gauck’s comments do not change anything regarding Germany’s stance on paying WWII reparations to Greece. “In terms of German governments policy on the reparations debate and Greece, I have nothing new to say here… The position of Germany is clear,” he told reporters this week.
Merkel herself mentioned the damage Nazi Germany had caused in Europe during her weekly address, but not the reparations specifically. “There is an ending dividing line in history and it shows in the debate both in Greece and in other European countries,” she stated, adding that Germany has “a special responsibility to show commitment, sensitivity, and interest to learn what they did in the era of National Socialism and what injuries over time and anxieties exist in other countries.”
Merkel is scheduled to arrive in Russia on May 10 and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, to honor those Soviet soldiers killed by Nazi Germany.
Greece is demanding 279 billion euros from Germany to pay off loans Greek banks were forced to pay to Germany at gunpoint in addition to physical damage during the occupation. The demand is so large that it would pay off the entirety of loans Greece owes Europe– a total of about 240 billion euros– and leave money to spare to manage the government. Such a payment could potentially save Greece from its debts, at least temporarily.
In March, Tsipras threatened to expropriate German property in Greece to pay off the reparations “debt.”
Germany newspaper Ta Nea recounts some of the damage that Nazi Germany inflicted on Greece during its occupation:
Thousands of Greeks were executed or massacred, while thousands also died of hunger. Thousands of Greek Jews were also killed. One million Greeks were homeless at the end of the war, while the total death toll is estimated to be between 320,000-800,000. After the Second World War, Greece plunged into civil war. The war lasted until 1949, further destroying the Greek economy.