Does Germany Still Owe Greece Money for Nazi War Crimes?

The Second World War occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers resulted in death, brutality, poverty, oppression, mass starvation, forced interest-free loans and the seizure of Greek property. After the conclusion of the war, some countries received substantial reparations for the crimes of Nazi Germany. These reparations were paid jointly by East and West Germany.

In 1960 Greece received the relatively small amount of 150 million Deutsch Marks, which some subsequent Greek Governments considered to be a down payment. After the reunification of Germany in 1990 and the Two Plus Four Agreement, signed with the Allied countries of World War Two, Germany has considered the matter of future reparations to Greece and other non-Allied countries to be closed.

Yet among many in Greece, including the current government led by Alexis Tsipras, the matter is far from closed. Greece’s claims against Germany’s crimes during the Second World War total €279bn (£204bn). When faced with huge debts, high unemployment and a host of austerity measures — mainly arbitrated by Greece’s largest creditor, Germany, along with the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank, IMF) — Greece could benefit enormously through being compensated for the crimes it suffered during the 4-year-long Axis occupation.

germany reparations greece occupation

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visits National Resistance Memorial in Kaisariani , Greece. Credit: Alexis Tsipras Prime Minister (Flickr CC)

The Crimes of the Nazi Occupation of Greece

  • 300,000 deaths from wartime starvation
  • 70,000 executions by the Axis occupying forces
  • 60,000 deaths among Greece’s Jewish population, many of whom were shipped to Auschwitz and other extermination camps
  • 900 destroyed villages
  • Wholesale plunder of food and resources

Forced loans from the Greek Central Bank to Nazi Germany totalling 476 million Reichsmarks at 0% interest. Greece’s deputy finance minister has calculated this amount to be equal to €10.3 billion in today’s values.

Support for Greek Claims Comes From Within Both Greece and Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with other high-ranking officials including the ministers for Finance and Economy, has dismissed any possibility of Germany paying any additional reparations to Greece. Yet the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, along with other senior party members and the leader of the Green Party, agree with Tsipras that the matter is not closed and that it should be addressed separately from current Greek debt or the Euro crisis.

In my view the issue is absolutely clear, we should provide financial help for the victims and their relatives. It is a matter of recognising that we committed terrible crimes in Greece.

—Gesine Schwan, a senior member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (via the Independent)

Recent polling has found that 82% of Greeks support claims for war reparations from Germany.

Some Greek officials have even suggested that if Germany does not pay war reparations, German assets in Greece could be seized in order to compensate the families of Nazi war crime victims.

nazi occupation greece reparations

German Panzers roll through historical central Athens during the occupation

Is Paying Greek Reparations Good for Europe?

The Greek crisis has seen a worsening of relations between the country and the European Union, especially Germany. In light of the current private and public debt, unpopular Greek austerity policies orchestrated by the EU and Germany, coupled with a legacy of brutal occupation, atrocities and unpaid debts, Greece may prefer to deal more with Russia and less with the Troika and Angela Merkel.

Yet if Germany were to honour what many see as legitimate Greek claims — or at least take them seriously — the European project might be perceived to be moving in a fairer direction rather than increasingly as a mechanism designed to enrich only its most powerful members.

Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham also contributes environmental news articles to asiancorrespondent.com and latincorrespondent.com.