German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel branded Greece’s demand for 278.7 billion euros ($302 billion) in reparations from World War II as “stupid” on Tuesday, while the German opposition said Berlin should repay a forced loan dating from the Nazi occupation.
Greek Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas made the demand on Monday, seizing on an emotional issue in a country where many blame Germany, their biggest creditor, for the tough austerity measures and record high unemployment connected with two international bailouts totaling 240 billion euros.
Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on Tuesday said his government has obtained “stunning evidence” to support its claim that German World War II reparations were indeed worth the 278.7 billion euros.
Kammenos said Greece had obtained records held by the U.S. military that review the extent of damage to private and public property during the Nazi occupation.
“There is stunning evidence — detailing what [happened] in every village and in every town,” Kammenos said in remarks made at the ministry Monday and published Tuesday.
“The evidence is so compelling that it will lead to the reopening of cases, even those that have already gone to court.”
Gabriel, who is also vice chancellor, said Greece ultimately had an interest in squeezing a bit of leeway out of its euro zone partners to help Athens overcome its debt crisis.
“And this leeway has absolutely nothing to do with World War II or reparation payments,” said Gabriel, who leads the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner in the ruling coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
Berlin is keen to draw a line under the reparations issue and officials have previously argued that Germany has honored its obligations, including a 115-million deutsche mark payment made to Greece in 1960.
Eckhardt Rehberg, a budget expert for the conservatives, accused Athens of deliberately mixing the debt crisis and reform requirements imposed by Greece’s international creditors with the issue of reparations and compensation.
“For me the figure of 278.7 billion euros of supposed war debts is neither comprehensible nor sound,” he told Reuters.
“The issue of reparations has, for us, been dealt with both from a political and a legal perspective.”
But Greece’s demand for Germany to repay a forced wartime loan amounting to 10.3 billion euros ($11.6 billion) found support from the German opposition, with members of the Greens and the far-left Linke party saying Berlin should cough up.
Both Manuel Sarrazin, a European policy expert for the Greens, and Annette Groth, a member of the leftist Linke party and chairman of a German-Greek parliamentary group, told Reuters that Berlin should repay a so-called occupation loan that Nazi Germany forced the Bank of Greece to make in 1942.
Berlin and Athens should “jointly and amicably” take any other claims to the International Court of Justice, Sarrazin said.
Groth went further, saying: “If you look at Greece’s debt and the European Central Bank’s bond purchases every month, it puts the figure of 278.7 billion euros into perspective.”
She said the German government should, at the very least, talk to Athens about how it came up with that figure.
Nazi Germany led the three-year wartime occupation of Greece that saw tens of thousands of people die of starvation under a brutal regime that carried out random executions in response to resistance fighters and destroyed vital infrastructure during its retreat.