Poland seeks $1.3 trillion in war reparations from Germany

Poland’s main ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, center, attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking the national World War II anniversary celebrations in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday. World War II began on September 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany’s bombing and invasion of Poland, over five years of brutal occupation. (Michel Degauque, The Associated Press)

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s top politician said Thursday that the government will seek the equivalent of $1.3 trillion in reparations from Germany for the Nazi invasion and occupation of his country in World War II.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski makes a huge claim when releasing a long-awaited report on the cost to the country of years of Nazi German occupation, as it marks 83 years since the start of World War II.

“Not only did we prepare the report, but we also made the decision on further steps,” Kaczynski said during the presentation of the report.

“We will move to Germany to start negotiations on compensation,” Kaczynski said, adding that it would be “a long road and not an easy path” but that it would “achieve success one day.”

He insisted the move would serve a “genuine Polish-German reconciliation” based on “the truth”.

He claimed that the German economy was able to foot the bill.

Germany claims that reparations were paid to the Eastern Bloc countries in the years after the war while territories lost by Poland in the east were compensated with the redrawing of some of Germany’s pre-war lands. Berlin is calling for a shutdown.

The German Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that the government’s position “has not changed” in terms of “finishing the issue of compensation.”

“Poland long ago, in 1953, waived further reparations and repeatedly confirmed this waiver,” the ministry said in an email response to an Associated Press inquiry about the new Polish report.

“This is an important basis for the European system today. Germany bears its responsibility for the Second World War, both politically and morally.”

Poland’s right-wing government argues that the country that was the first victim of the war has not been fully compensated by neighboring Germany, which is now one of its main partners within the European Union.

Polish President Andrzej Duda delivers a speech during a memorial ceremony commemorating the 81st anniversary of the outbreak of World War II at the Westerplatte Memorial in Gdansk, Poland on September 1, 2020. Poland seeks reparations from Germany for World War II atrocities.
Polish President Andrzej Duda delivers a speech during a memorial ceremony commemorating the 81st anniversary of the outbreak of World War II at the Westerplatte Memorial in Gdansk, Poland on September 1, 2020. Poland seeks reparations from Germany for World War II atrocities. (Photo: Michel Renick/Aginga Gazeta/Reuters)

“Germany has never held accountable for its crimes against Poland,” Kaczynski said, claiming that many Germans who committed war crimes lived with impunity in post-war Germany.

Senior leaders including Kaczynski, Poland’s main policymaker, and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended the ceremonial release of the report at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, which was reconstructed from wartime ruins.

The release of the three-volume report was the focus of national celebrations of the war’s anniversary that began on September 1, 1939, with the bombing of Nazi Germany and the invasion of Poland followed by more than five years of brutal occupation.

The head of the report’s team, MP Arkadiusz Mularczyk, said that it was impossible to determine a financial value for the losses of about 5.2 million people, which he blamed on the German occupation.

He mentioned losses to infrastructure, industry, agriculture, and culture, and deportations to Germany due to forced labor and efforts to convert Polish children to Germans.

A team of more than 30 economists, historians and other experts have worked on the report since 2017. The issue has raised bilateral tensions.

The war was “one of the most terrible tragedies in our history,” President Andrzej Duda said during the early morning festivities on the Westerplatte peninsula near Gdask, one of the first places attacked in the Nazi invasion.

“Not only because it took away our freedom, not only because it took our state from us, but also because this war led to millions of casualties among the citizens of Poland and irreparable losses to our homeland and nation,” Duda said.

In Germany, the government official for German-Polish cooperation, Dietmar Neitan, said in a statement that September 1 “remains a day of guilt and shame for Germany and reminds us again and again not to forget the crimes committed by Germany.” It is “the darkest chapter in our history” and continues to affect bilateral relations.

The reconciliation offered by the people of Poland is “the basis on which we can look towards the future together in a united Europe,” said Nitan.

A Polish Army veteran attends a wreath laying ceremony marking the national World War II anniversary celebrations in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday.  World War II began on September 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany's bombing and invasion of Poland, over five years of brutal occupation.
A Polish Army veteran attends a wreath laying ceremony marking the national World War II anniversary celebrations in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday. World War II began on September 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany’s bombing and invasion of Poland, over five years of brutal occupation. (Photo: Michael Dijock, The Associated Press)

The Government of Poland rejects the 1953 Declaration of the communist leaders of the time, under pressure from the Soviet Union, agreeing not to make any further claims about Germany.

The opposition MP, Grzegorz Schetyna, says the report is just a “game in domestic politics” and insists Poland needs to build good relations with Berlin.

In a country where bullet holes from the war can still be seen on homes not so long ago, recent surveys have shown that Polish public opinion is almost evenly divided on the issue of reparations. Many families still cherish the memories of their lost loved ones in the war.

About 6 million Polish citizens, including 3 million Jews, were killed in the war. Some of them were victims of the Soviet Red Army, which invaded from the east.

Contribution: Frank Jordan and Jerry Molson

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