On April 27, 1941, the Wehrmacht invaded Athens. The German translation of diplomat Aris Radiopoulos’ book on reparations contributes valuable documents
Early morning of April 27, 1941, Athena. The windows of the houses were well secured, not a soul was moving around, the arrival of the Wehrmacht which had already arrived in northern and central Greece was expected, according to witnesses of the time. The swastika was raised on the Acropolis and the necessary procedural radio announcements followed, closing with the Nazi salute Heil Hitler, he often recalled. Manolis Glezos, hero of the resistance. The most martyred period of modern Greece began that April morning.
The horror of the occupation in Greece has permeated the memory of many generations to this day. They are the stories about hunger, hardships, imprisonments and executions, the murders of civilians, the annihilation of Greek Jews, forced labor, unimaginable destruction and looting. They are the living memories of old Greek men and women, who lost educational opportunities and were forced to emigrate a few decades after the war to Germany. A generation that experienced the impoverishment of the war and raised its children with “never again”, but which saw no justification for the Nazi crimes committed in Greece.
Claims for war reparations and reparations against Germany remain active for Greece in accordance with the consistent position of all post-war Greek governments, in contrast to the also consistent German position that the matter is legally over. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs sees the claim of reparations consistently and over time as a “matter of principle”. This year, from Berlin, PtD Katerina Sakellaropoulou emphasized to DW that “the burdens of the past cannot be erased unilaterally” and that in the future “a solution could be found in the future, with dialogue and a good mood. A few days ago, the leader of the official opposition, Alexis Tsipras from the German capital, reiterated that the issue of reparations remains “open”, especially the issue of the home loan”. Current political tidbits of a debate going back to April 1941.
Valuable book for understanding the Greek claims
A few months ago, the voluminous book by the diplomat Aris Radiopoulos on the Greek claims for reparations and compensations against Germany (Die Griechische Reparationsforderungen gegenben Deutschland) was published in German by Metropol publications. It is a most detailed investigation into unknown diplomatic and historical records of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as German sources, which he prepared while he was a diplomatic officer some years ago in the German capital. The new edition was even presented last winter in Berlin, Dusseldorf and other German cities, in packed rooms, with lively discussions with experts, politicians and a Greek-German public who wanted to know more about this complex issue. It was also preceded, a few years ago, by an extensive Greek edition by Nefeli publications (The claim of German debts to Greece from the First and Second World Wars through documents from the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
But the importance of the new, expanded German edition lies in the fact that for the first time it is presented to the German public with historical accuracy, – although the author is not a historian – but also from the perspective of an experienced diplomat, the chronicle of the uninterrupted post-war Greek claim for war reparations, reparations , as well as the home loan: from the Paris Conference of 1945-1946, the eventful 1950s, the period of German Reunification and the 2+4 Treaty until the period after 1995, reaching the report of the Greek Parliament of 2019 and the debate in the German parliament on March 2, 2020 on war reparations.
And all this based on hitherto unknown diplomatic files and reports, which are now presented to the German reading public, constituting -potentially- historical as well as legal grounds for the Greek claims. Without an ideological sign, but with the detachment of the researcher who cites objective facts about the Nazi crimes committed on Greek soil and the related debts of Germany, this particular book rightfully seeks at least a place at the table of the Greek-German dialogue as reference manuals.
Record the extent and type of losses
It is enough to flip through the second part of the 602-page book for the reader – in this case the German reader – to understand what it is all about. Through 112 multi-page files one can get a good picture of the scope, the type and the amount of the multifaceted losses suffered by Greece during the occupation period. The records under investigation start from December 30, 1941. But essentially the first assessment of the damage suffered by Greece from the Nazis comes on October 1, 1945 with a comprehensive overview of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared for the Paris Conference.
To date, the exact amount of Greek claims for war reparations, reparations and the occupation loan varies depending on the calculation method followed taking into account currency changes, interest rates and other factors. In general, however, the calculations so far converge on an amount that fluctuates around 300 billion euros – with other calculations raising it even higher. But this is perhaps not the most crucial element – the accounting valuation of the final amount is the last act, one would say reading the book. On a first level, it is important to make clear the record of Greek losses both in human terms and in terms of material disasters: hundreds of thousands of deaths, injuries, mutilations of civilians and soldiers but also unimaginable destruction of public infrastructure, such as railways, ports, warehouses raw materials, roads, salt pans and of course in private properties but also in almost all of the agricultural and livestock production of the time.
The documents listed speak for themselves and tell their own resounding truth. As does the chronicle of the uninterrupted Greek actions at the European and international level to settle the issue, despite the German denial. Without touching the field of political and ideological confrontations in the two countries, the book in hand records and monitors over time the evolution of the debate, both at the Greek-German and international level through speeches, letters, public statements, contacts, diplomatic initiatives indirectly but also inevitably shedding light on the intentions and motivations of each side.
In any case, Radiopoulos’s book is an important and useful tool for a renewed Greek-German dialogue on the basis of mutual respect, understanding of the historical reality that Greece is talking about and, ultimately, an honest assessment of it at all possible levels.
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