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15th Apr 2024

Germany failed to pay WWII compensation, Greece says

Athens has accused Germany of failing to meet its World War II compensation obligations following the Nazi occupation of Greece in 1941, a claim Berlin has firmly rejected.

In a radio interview on Wednesday (24 February), Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos criticised Germany's attitude towards the ongoing Greek debt crisis, adding that Athens had never received adequate war reparations.

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  • The Venus de Milo at the Louvre museum in Paris (Photo: Rik_C)

"They took away the Greek gold that was at the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back. This is an issue that has to be faced sometime in the future," Mr Pangalos told the BBC World Service.

"I don't say they have to give back the money necessarily but they have at least to say 'thanks'," he added.

The comments come as Greece was brought to a halt by a 24-hour general strike on Wednesday which spilled over into violent clashes, and just days after media reports of a possible German-led bail-out for Greece.

German foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke dismissed the comments, adding that "a discussion about the past is not helpful at all to solve [today's] problems."

He said Germany had paid compensation to Greece of some 115 million deutsche marks by 1960 and subsequently made further payments to forced laborers of the Nazi regime.

"I'd like to mention that parallel to this, since 1960 Germany has paid around 33 billion deutsche marks in aid to Greece both bilaterally and in the context of the EU," he said. Germans received roughly one euro for every two deutsche marks when the notes changed over in 2002.

While Mr Pangalos' comments are unlikely to nurture charitable feelings inside Germany, Greek politicians have themselves voiced outrage over recent media reports inside Europe's largest economy.

A recent cover of the German weekly magazine Focus ran the title "Fraudsters Inside the Euro Family," next to an image of a Greek statue of the Venus de Milo making an obscene gesture.

Analysts said the spat could result in Germany leaving Greece to its own fate. "Greece should never have entered the euro zone because they did not qualify and they are now blackmailing other European countries via the euro," said Hans-Werner Sinn, head of Germany's IFO economic institute, reports The Telegraph.

"It's not for the EU to help Greece. We have an institution that is very experienced in bailing-out activities: the IMF," he added.

Debt concealment

Greece has come under pressure recently to explain allegations that it used complex financial products, provided by US investment banks, to conceal the true state of its debt pile over the last decade. Athens is also accused of manipulating its figures to gain entry into the eurozone in 2001.

Addressing the EU concerns, Mr Pangalos said Italy had done more to mask the true state of its finances before joining the single currency.

"You simply put some amounts of money in the next year ...it is what everybody did and Greece did it to a lesser extent than Italy for example," he said.

Greek debt is currently estimated to be roughly €300 billion, with the country's budget deficit hitting 12.7 percent of gross domestic product last year.

Independently on Wednesday, the European Commission indicated it plans to take Greece to the EU's top court to recover state aid which it says violated EU single market rules.

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