Germany rejects Greek challenge over WWII atrocity suit

13th January 2011, Comments 3 comments

Germany on Thursday slammed Greek plans to contest a German appeal before an international tribunal against a ruling that gave compensation to Greek victims of a Nazi wartime atrocity.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that his Greek counterpart Dimitrios Droutsas had called him late Wednesday to inform him of Athens' decision to challenge Germany's appeal before the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In 2007, a court in Florence, Italy, slapped a financial charge on two buildings owned by the German state at the request of relatives of Greek victims of a Nazi massacre in the central Greek village of Distomo.

The bloodbath on June 10, 1944 left 217 people dead.

The plaintiffs had turned to the Italian courts after their attempts to win compensation in Greece stalled. After Germany appealed to the ICJ in December 2008, Greece had until Friday to state its position.

Westerwelle said the Greek challenge was unfounded and had the potential to set a dangerous precedent.

"I have simply no understanding for the decision of the Greek government," he said in a statement.

"In Germany, we know our responsibility for our history. And we also know about the particular suffering of the Greek people in World War II."

Westerwelle said Berlin was confident the ICJ would rule in its favour.

"In terms of lawsuits against Germany, we expect internationally recognised principles of law and particularly Germany's immunity as a state to be respected," he said.

"If this principle is undermined, the community of nations could face legal insecurity."

The issue of wartime reparation claims over Germany's four-year occupation of Greece, which ruined the country financially and left thousands dead, has complicated relations between Athens and Berlin for decades.

It resurfaced last year, when Germany's resistance to a loan bailout for debt-hit Greece sparked an ugly exchange of recriminations between the countries' media.

Some Greek politicians noted that Nazi forces had looted state gold reserves and said Berlin should be less smug over money.

In 1997 a Greek court ordered Germany to pay 28.6 million euros (37.8 million dollars) to the Distomo plaintiffs but opposition from Berlin and reluctance from Greek justice ministers meant the ruling was never enforced.

Germany has always refused to pay, arguing that the issue of compensation was settled by a bilateral agreement with Greece dating from 1960.

The German government says it has paid out more than 67 billion euros to victims of the Nazis including survivors of concentration camps, ghettos or forced labour programmes.

© 2011 AFP

3 Comments To This Article

  • Demetri posted:

    on 14th January 2011, 22:56:38 - Reply


    The suit isn't about money. I"m sure the Greek government wouldn't have pursued the matter if it hadn't been for the over-the-top anti-Greek rhetoric by many German pundits and politicians (as Greece ignored this exact suit for years and didn't seek any damages whatsoever for decades).

    Before Europeans get into a game of who owes what to whom.... consider for a moment the substantial amount of money that Americans gave to Germans to rebuild their nation right after WW2... right after the considerably amount of damage the Nazis caused all of Europe. Did Americans only consider themselves? Did they only seek to punish and smugly point fingers at German mistakes? Couldn't they have "sold off" parts of Germany to cover its debts? (like some German pundits suggested of Greece)

    Or did they take a more humanist approach and forgive Germany?

    In my opinion, we have a choice here.

    a. We can go back to being nationalist extremists that only worry about our own nations.

    b. We can also become Europeans that allow room for mistakes and disagreements between us and work through problems much as if we were part of a single nation.

    In my opinion, to do this requires we learn how to stop worrying about only pointing fingers like our 19th century nationalist predecessors and just fix issues as they arrive. I know its easy for someone Greek to say this at the moment (since its the German taxpayer who is currently on the hook for Greece's own fiscal stupidity) but it's true nevertheless.
  • Ash posted:

    on 14th January 2011, 09:38:54 - Reply

    If Germans are to be made to pay yet further for nazi crimes, then Poles, Russians and Czechs must pay compensation for death, pain and suffering and return the stolen property of German expellees.
  • Demetri posted:

    on 13th January 2011, 19:51:18 - Reply

    Speaking as someone Greek,

    this suit has absolutely nothing to do with money as some foolishly believe. A few million is just a drop in the bucket compared to the billions in bailout. This suit has to do with human dignity.

    When Greece nearly defaulted it received an enormous amount criticism. It was its own fault and certainly not that of German taxpayers (who have every right to be upset despite what a few Greek politicians might say to cover up their own shame). This was fine at first.. but the criticism by German politicians and media went on for far far too long and was entirely too vicious against average Greeks (still going on I would add).
    Earned criticism is fine but what this suit was intended to show that between our two countries whom exactly has more to criticize?(for quite some time to come). Has any Greek army every invaded Germany and killed 10% of its population? So how would Germans like it if Greeks demonized them and went on and on about the Nazis? (which frankly we never really made a big deal about. Consider the Greek government only officially asked for 80M in damages despite far far more than that was done )

    I have great respect for Germans but you have not been very good friends to Greece in a difficult time (also consider the name dispute where everyone pretends they don't notice the former Yugoslavians's udden change into "ancient Macedonian" and irredentist talk). The bailout only came when it became apparent that their might be contagious, because of pressure from France, and because it became obvious the Euro was suffering.

    If we are to repair our relationship and move forward to a European Europe (not a Europe that only concerns itself with German interests) then Germans most remember to forgive other Europeans mistakes just like they wish their own to be forgiven. Ranting at each other in perpetuity is the surest way to return to 19th century ultra nationalism and divided Europe. The true test of the European project is not about only the good things. Its about whether we ultimately work through issues when they don't.