A Bag of Tricks to Avoid Paying Reparations

ATHENS/BERLIN (Own report) - Athens has formally requested reparations negotiations with Berlin for the devastation the German occupiers had inflicted on Greece during World War II. The Greek Ambassador handed over a confidential note verbale to the competent authorities in Berlin, confirmed the German foreign ministry, yesterday. According to a Greek parliamentary commission, the reparations debt amounts to €288 billion, at current value. The German government categorically rejects payments. As a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry confirmed, "the issue has been settled legally and politically." For a long time, the Federal Republic of Germany has, in fact, linked its reparation obligations, stipulated in a 1946 Agreement, to a peace treaty concluded sometime in the future. When the issue arose in 1990, Germany concluded the Two-Plus-Four-Agreement "instead of" a peace treaty and unilaterally declared the "reparations issue … settled." Internal documents from 1990 expose Bonn's bag of tricks.

The Paris Reparation Agreement

The debate on reparations and compensations for the devastation Germans had inflicted on Greece during WW II, has long since become a lesson in how to systematically protract, diffuse, and reject contractual claims for decades. After the war, there was no doubt about the Federal Republic of Germany's obligation to meet reparations payments for the damages inflicted on Greece by its legal predecessor. Already the August 2, 1945 Potsdam Declaration stipulated that Germany be compelled “to compensate to the greatest possible extent for the loss and suffering” it had caused in the countries it had invaded. The January 14, 1946 Paris Agreement on Reparations set the precise sum for reparations at US $7,181 billion based on the 1938 buying power. In 2010, this would come to US $106,5 billion.[1] In the immediate post-war period, Athens managed to secure goods worth US $25 million from the limited mass from which reparations were available, at the time - only a fraction of the amount it had been awarded in Paris.[2]

The London Debt Agreement

When, in the 1950s, the Federal Republic of Germany consolidated and became solvent again, priorities in paying off German debt were clearly set to the disadvantage of countries that had been invaded by the Nazi-Reich. The February 27, 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts stipulated that the Federal Republic should first pay its regular foreign debts, it had accumulated before and after WW II - however with an extremely generous debt relief of well over 50 percent. According to Article 5 (2) of the Debt Agreement, the reparation payments were deferred "until the final settlement." In reference to the targeted timeframe, the Transition Agreement signed in Paris October 23, 1954, stipulated that "the issue of reparations be regulated by a peace treaty between Germany and its former adversaries or earlier." Prior to 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany had steadfastly insisted that the issue of reparations be solely negotiated in the context of a peace treaty.[3]

The Sole Reparations Payment

The 115 million DM the Federal Republic of Germany was obliged to pay Athens on March 18, 1960, after eight of the countries attacked by Nazi Germany had banded together to demand compensation,[4] had explicitly nothing to do with reparations. The sum was exclusively earmarked for Greek citizens, who "on the basis of race, religion, or ideology had been affected by Nazi persecution."[5] From this group, Bonn had explicitly imposed the omission of partisans in the Greek resistance, who, had been classified members of "armed gangs," those afflicted by the effects of starvation, and the victims of Wehrmacht and SS massacres. They were left without any compensation. Besides, settlement for the extensive material damage had never been raised as an issue of that agreement.

"Rather No Peace Treaty"

From Germany's perspective, its annexation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1990, made the situation more complicated, because an agreement on a peace treaty became imminent. With the formulations in the Transition Agreement (October 23, 1954), "the conclusion of a formal peace treaty ... will make it unavoidable that the issue of reparations, as a whole and in the form of concrete agreements will be tabled, and we be pressured to pledge reparations payments," predicted Ministerial Department Director Horst Teltschik in a submittal to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, dated March 16, 1990. "Therefore, the German government ... has an intrinsic interest in opposing any demand to conclude a peace treaty." "Without the conclusion of a formal peace treaty," on the other hand, "the issue of reparations" should not "be raised again," said Teltschik.[6] Indeed, the Two-Plus-Four-Agreement was signed September 12, 1990 not as a peace treaty, but deliberately "instead of" one. Twenty-five years later, Teltschik justified this step as follows: "As is well known, the Nazi regime was at war with more than 50 countries in the world. ... Just imagine, within the context of a peace treaty, we had demands for reparations from over 50 countries on the table."[7]

Athens' Claims

Greece, at the time, had refused to be tricked so easily by Germany - after all, in 1990, Germany had become the world's third largest economic power. November 2, 1990, two months after Bonn officially informed the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, today, the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE) about the Two-Plus-Four-Agreement, Prime Minister Konstantínos Mitsotákis informed the Greek parliament that his government considers the issue of reparations open, since it has not been settled. Athens has repeatedly attempted to enter negotiations on the question with Bonn and later Berlin. However, the German government, using the Two-Plus-Four-Agreement trick has consistently refused. Most recently, Speaker of the Greek Parliament, Níkos Voútsis announced that shortly after the latest Euro-"aid package" for Greece expires, in August 2018, Athens would take steps to finally reclaim its reparations.[8] This is based on a report submitted to the Greek parliament by its non-partisan commission in August 2016. According to this report, Germany owes Greece €288 billion in reparations debts and an additional €11 billion from a non-reimbursed forced loan imposed by the Nazis.

No Reply

Over the past few days, Athens began implementing the steps it had announced and presented in the German capital a note verbale calling on the German government to negotiate. The German government's response was again negative. The issue is "settled, legally and politically," a spokesperson for the foreign ministry is quoted saying. It is not even certain, whether there will be a reply to the note verbale.[9]


[1] Karl-Heinz Roth: Griechenland am Abgrund. Die deutsche Reparationsschuld. Hamburg 2015. S. 85-87.

[2] Kateřina Králová: Das Vermächtnis der Besatzung. Deutsch-griechische Beziehungen seit 1940. Köln/Weimar/Wien 2016. S. 190.

[3] Jörg Kronauer: "Wir sind die Herren des Landes". Der deutsche Griff nach Griechenland - Geschichte einer Unterwerfung. Hamburg 2016. S. 60ff.

[4] Es handelte sich um Frankreich, Belgien, die Niederlande, Luxemburg, Norwegen, Dänemark, Großbritannien und Griechenland.

[5] Jörg Kronauer: "Wir sind die Herren des Landes". Der deutsche Griff nach Griechenland - Geschichte einer Unterwerfung. Hamburg 2016. S. 60ff.

[6] Vorlage des Ministerialdirektors Teltschik an Bundeskanzler Kohl: "Berechtigung eventueller Reparationsforderungen von Siegern des 2. Weltkriegs gegen ein vereintes Deutschland. Völkerrechtliche Bewertung". In: Hans Jürgen Küsters, Daniel Hofmann: Deutsche Einheit. Sonderedition aus den Akten des Bundeskanzleramtes 1989/90. München 1998. S. 955-956.

[7] "Alle Forderungen erledigt". deutschlandfunk.de 14.03.2015.

[8] See also Cheap Commemoration.

[9] Bundesregierung geht nicht auf griechische Reparationsforderungen ein. handelsblatt.com 05.06.2019.