In the sunset of Angela Merkel’s enduring and impressive Chancellorship, Hellenic organizations of the Greek diaspora have sent a letter to the Chancellor and leaders of political parties in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) to raise again the issue of Germany's World War II (WWII) debt to Greece. The letter1 concludes: After 80 years, we demand from the German Government, the political parties and the members of the Federal Parliament to open negotiations with Greece to resolve the serious issue of Germany’s WWII debt to Greece. The restoration of justice will improve Greek-German bilateral relations, lay to rest those civilian souls cruelly killed and send a strong and still needed and lasting message against fascism. The National Council (NC) for the Claim of Germany's Debts to Greece has welcomed this recent letter as an important initiative. It is perhaps the last documentation and chance to resolve the issue of reparations in what is seen by many in Greece as a sacred, democratic struggle for justice and compensation before Angela Markel’s curtain call.
During WWII the Greek population fell by 13.5%, 1,770 villages were destroyed and death in wintry Athens came by Wehrmacht made famine. The issue of Germany debt to Greece is as relevant as ever and in this 78th anniversary year it undergoes a reexamination by the Association of Holocaust Victims of Viannos Municipality, Crete (17-20 September 2021). Aristomenis Singelakis (September 30, 2021) also addressed Hellenes Abroad on the Front Line saying at this critical juncture in the issue of claiming German debts and immediately after the German elections we will try to make a comprehensive and comprehensive presentation of the issue seeking the path of justification of the Resistance and the sacrifice of the Greek people.
Greek claims against Germany started at the end of hostilities and Victory in Europe in 1945 and refer to losses suffered by the country and its people during World War II; the loss of Greek citizens, to the repayment of the Bank of Greece's compulsory loan to the Third Reich and to interest to the rest of the unpaid reparations and the demand of the return of as well as artifacts-antiquities and other cultural goods, stolen and looted by German troops. The official list of thefts and looting of German troops during the Occupation was published by the Greek state in 1946 and includes 8,500 movable ancient objects that had been stolen. These works have not been returned and are on display in some museums, auctions and private collections. The Letter cites the Paris Inter-Allied Conference (November 1945 - January 1946) set the reparations to Greece at $7.181 billion (purchase value 1938) (excluding the occupation loan and the archaeological and cultural treasures stolen and looted). However, while Italy and Bulgaria have repaid their debts to Greece, the FRG has not repaid what it owes and has consistently rejected Greek demands for negotiations between the two sides, offering different excuses from time to time. In recent years, the FRG has argued that the 2 + 4 Treaty (Moscow, 1990) settled all the issues of redress comprehensively.
The recent letter draws on the fact that the Scientific Service of the Federal Parliament does not agree with the German Federal Government. A relevant opinion published in 2019, states that Greece never waived its claims against the FRG. The Scientific Service says compensations are not even mentioned in the treaty agreement and that Greece, as a third country did not participate in the work of the Treaty and should have explicitly agreed with the resulting and disadvantageous decision; Greece is not bound by a Treaty in which it had no participation and whose conclusion is neither signed nor ratified. Germany, on the other hand, is explicitly bound by the 1953 Treaty of London, which allowed it to rebuild the country, and must respect its signature.
Greece has submitted at least three verbal communications to Germany for the settlement of its debts to our country: In November 1966, on November 14, 1995, and on June 4, 2019, requesting the start of negotiations for the payment of war reparations from the First and Second World Wars, the repayment of the occupation loan and the return of cultural goods.
There are things we can never forget. For me it can be bluebells carpeting the woods, the air raid siren that even today still disturbs me or the anger of a young and deeply troubled Englishman towards an even younger German making an effort and hurting as he tried to come to terms with his country’s acts in WWII, this about 1960. The youthful Englishman went into the war late but was with a group of other soldiers to first enter a concentration camp. That experience was a heavy burden. After that summer I never saw either of them again.
More than half a century on I experienced a moving and dignified spectacle which stimulated reflection; a memorial of candelabras in a small Orthodox Church on a bluff just above the Museum, one candle for each of the 461 dead, slaughtered nonsensically, in war. They hang silently in eternal harmony one next to the other symbolizing those, whose wicks were prematurely and cruelly snuffed out. I visited the church close to midnight during the first quarter of the moon. Stars studded the sky with W-shaped Cassiopeia standing high above, seemingly, to appeal for no more War.
The following morning examined the still open black book of the occupation of Greece and only partially read by Europe. German reparations to Greece have never been paid. In the respective words of a passionate Cretan Aristomenis Singelakis and Vasilis Brakatsoulas who joined the National Resistance in his early teens and carried documents, information, medicines, and food from valley to the mountain and from rural areas into the city of Karditsa, both members of the National Council.
Between the 14th and 16th of September 1943 more than 400 civilians were ruthlessly and cruelly murdered in Amiras and surrounding villages. It was the result of a shocking military order, ‘Destroy Viannos county, execute immediately, without any procedure, all men over 16 as well as all those arrested in the countryside, regardless of gender and age’. My grandfather, Aristomenis and other members of my father’s family were executed by German troops in a horrible crime against humanity. We shall not stop fighting until justice prevails. On his family’s door, there were 5 black crosses that indicated a loss of 5 members executed on 14.9.1943.
Greece as a whole is a Holocaust and justice has never been given; those responsible for crimes against humanity were never punished and their victims, the people of Greece have not yet been compensated, there is only one way: Justice and Compensation!
The recent letter lists some communities that suffered from the Nazi atrocity; In the worst massacre, 1,436 people were executed. After 80 years, the writers demand from the German Government, the political parties and the members of the Federal Parliament to open negotiations with Greece to resolve such a serious issue. The restoration of justice is mandatory and will improve the bilateral relations between Greece and Germany. Today it is necessary to send a strong, lasting message against fascism. It is the last appeal to Chancellor Merkel; stay on the battlements of justice.
In my article Resistance and resilience, responsibility and recompense, World War II obligations to Greece and earlier ones I wrote with America’s entry into the war, with Britain, France and the great struggle of the Soviet Union, the Allies came through victorious. Germany was defeated but at a terrible cost to the German people and all Europeans. Known as a great deliverance war ended in Europe on the 8th May 1945 but it did not end fascism. German war crimes were documented by Life and the photography of Dmitri Kessel. In Sacrifices of Greece in WWII Doxiardis says that the aim of the Axis was to destroy Hellenism, which always stood up against the forces of violence. Sacrifices were based on the work of Nikos Kazantzakis, Ioannis Kakrides and Ioannis Kalitsounakis in the summer of 1945 with photographer Kostas Koutoulakis. They trudged the length and breadth of war-torn Crete gathering data. The information was presented during the Paris Reparations Conference 1945-1946.
I visited the Municipality of Amiras Viannos in the southeast quadrant of Crete, 70 kilometres from Knossos to participate in an event held in the recently opened Museum of the Holocaust. Above the Museum and close to the small church and its 461 candelabras is a marble plaque inscribed with the words of S. Rotas, a Greek poet: Voices from the earth, appealing to all who pass by.
Wayfarer do go tell, of voices, you have heard from those who fell…that every shred of good that comes with life, was freely given by those now dead. Wayfarer, tell, what you have heard, through tears and from the many voices from the ground.
Human loss in Greece was about 14% of the population, a loss of 137 per 1000 in three years by execution squads, in the concentration camps of the 3rd Reich and by the low birth rate as well as by enforced famine. In Athens, approximately 100,000 died within the winter, 1941-42. The Occupation Report for Greece was more than dramatic: hundreds of thousands of people died from starvation, diseases, executions, displacement, forced labour, and torture. The Jewish Community in Greece was almost wiped out. One thousand seven hundred and seventy villages and more than four hundred thousand houses were torched to the ground (25% of the total). The productive and social infrastructures were completely destroyed; its resources were methodically looted. In addition, archaeological and cultural treasures of incalculable value were stolen and sent to the Third Reich. Monuments of unique value were severely damaged. Greece suffered an unspeakable tragedy and an unprecedented economic catastrophe, which has brutally undermined its development perspective for decades. The Greek economy contracted and has been estimated to be more than that suffered by America in the Great Depression.
This year marks the 200-year celebration of the Greek War of Independence and 80 years since Hitler's Germany invaded Greece on April 6, 1941, where many massacres were committed in the country until 1944. Since the end of WWII Greece has clearly documented its enormous losses. Seventy-five years after the end of World War II and thirty years after the reunification of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) still refuses to take responsibility for the heinous crimes of Nazi Germany and its obligations. Although those responsible for these crimes against humanity were never punished justice can still be served.
One summing up was received by the Congress that I attended in Crete. It came from the late Manolis Glezos who according to De Gaulle, President of France was the leading Partisan in Europe. Apostolos Santas took down Hitler’s war flag from the Acropolis (1941). In his message, an ageing Glezos, and member of the European Parliament indicted democratic Germany for its refusal to acknowledge crimes committed against Greece by the 3rd Reich in WWII as well as sequential Greek governments for their lack of daring and ineffectual decision making to seek Compensation and Reparations.
Since the Treaty of London (1953) until reunification (1990) all German governments have remained uncompromising on the issue of its war debt to Greece. Methodically Germany has and with American influence sidestepped the issue by playing too early to negotiate politics. Now too late, the aim is to shift the responsibility for Nazi war crimes to the National Resistance and to hold the British naval blockade responsible for the famine in occupied Greece.
Chancellor Merkel’s legacy is already ensured. Her recent visit to Israel underscores her humanity while reminding us of Nazi policy instruments for mass killing, death camps and Nazi atrocities in Greece. It can be made more enduring with a final Matinada for Hellas during her upcoming visit to Greece. Her European Unity Award will add an additional shine. It can annul her self-recognized harshness to Greece in the management of imposed austerity in Greece by Germany. This is the 78th anniversary to honor and remember the slaughtered dead, victims of the Greek holocaust in which the Jewish population was also wiped out and the call to fight continues until the final vindication. At all costs, we must oppose attempts to revive fascism and Nazism and resist attempts to falsify history. Keep the historical memory alive!
1 The letter is signed by Vassilios Mataragas, President, Hellenic American National Council, Dr. Theodoros Halatsis, President, Canadian Greek Congress, Capt. Evangelos Rigos, President, International Hellenic Union, Maria Delivani, President and former Rector, Delivani Foundation, Ioannis Gekas, President, Pan-Macedonian Union of Germany.