Poland seeks €1.3 trillion from Germany in reparations for Nazi occupation

·3-min read
© Michal Dyjuk, AP

Poland's government on Thursday estimated the financial cost of World War II losses to be 1.3 trillion euros and said it would "ask Germany to negotiate these reparations".

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), announced the huge claim at the release of a long-awaited report on the cost of years of Nazi German occupation.

“We not only prepared the report but we have also taken the decision as to the further steps,” Kaczynski said during the report’s presentation, time to coincide with the 83rd anniversary of the start of World War II.

“We will turn to Germany to open negotiations on the reparations,” Kaczynski said, adding that it will be a “long and difficult path”.

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland's governing PiS party has often championed the issue of war reparations.

Work on the reparations report began in 2017, when the conservative government insisted that Germany had a "moral duty" in the matter.

Germany has previously dismissed Poland's claims, pointing to a 1953 decision by Poland's then-communist leaders to renunciate reparation claims against East Germany.

The German Foreign Ministry said Thursday the government’s position remains “unchanged" and that “the question of reparations is concluded”.

“Poland long ago, in 1953, waived further reparations and has repeatedly confirmed this waiver,” the ministry told AP.

However, Poland’s current government says it rejects the 1953 agreement, stressing that it was made under pressure from the Soviet Union.

On Thursday, Kaczynski brought the issue back front and centre.

"Germany has never really accounted for its crimes against Poland,“ he said, claiming that many Germans who committed war crimes lived in impunity in Germany after the war.

"The Germans invaded Poland and did us enormous damage. The occupation was unbelievably criminal, unbelievably cruel and caused effects that in many cases continue to this day," the PiS leader added.

Kaczynski claimed the German economy was capable of paying the bill and insisted the move would serve “true Polish-German reconciliation”.

'Darkest chapter in our history'

The release of the three-volume report was the focus of national observances of the anniversary of the war that began on September 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany’s bombing and invasion of Poland that was followed by more than five years of brutal occupation.

The head of the report team, lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk, said it was impossible to place a financial value on the loss of some 5.2 million lives he blamed on the German occupation.

He listed losses to the infrastructure, industry, farming, culture, deportations to Germany for forced labor and efforts to turn Polish children into Germans.

A team of more than 30 economists, historians and other experts worked on the report since 2017. The issue has created bilateral tensions.

The war was “one of the most terrible tragedies in our history,” President Andrzej Duda said during early morning observances at the Westerplatte peninsula near Gdansk, one of the first places to be attacked in the Nazi invasion.

“Not only because it took our freedom, not only because it took our state from us, but also because this war meant millions of victims among Poland’s citizens and irreparable losses to our homeland and our nation,” Duda said.

In Germany, the government’s official for German-Polish cooperation, Dietmar Nietan, said in a statement that September 1 “remains a day of guilt and shame for Germany that reminds us time and again not to forget the crimes carried out by Germany” that are the “darkest chapter in our history” and still affect bilateral relations.

Reconciliation offered by people in Poland is “the basis on which we can look toward the future together in a united Europe,” Nietan said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)