Poland Considers Demanding WWII Reparations From Germany

A Polish lawmaker says his country has a 'moral duty' to seek reparations for the material and human losses caused by the occupying Nazi forces

The remains of the Warsaw ghetto, which the German SS dynamited to the ground, in 1945
B.I. Sanders/AP

The Polish government is considering asking Germany for compensation for damage caused to Poland under the Nazi occupation during World War II.

Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a lawmaker with the ruling Law and Justice party, said on Wednesday that the parliament’s research department was studying whether Poland has a legal claim for demanding reparations from Germany. A report should be ready by mid-August, when it would be submitted to the government, he said.

Mularczyk said Poland had a “moral duty” to seek reparations for the material and human losses caused by the Nazi German occupying forces, beginning in 1939.

The war killed nearly six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Poland also suffered huge material, cultural and industrial losses, including the near-total destruction of Warsaw, the capital.

On Tuesday, Poland marked the 73rd anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising (not to be confused with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a year earlier). During the failed revolt against the Nazi occupiers, some 200,000 Polish civilians were killed alongside 18,000 Polish fighters. Some of the participants in this uprising were Jews, including some who had fought in the ghetto revolt and survived.

“There is no doubt that the first months [of the uprising] ... were genocidal in character. This was not part of a battle against insurgents; people were simply murdered ... house by the house, apartment after apartment,” Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told Polish public broadcaster TVP Info.

“The only thing the Germans can do in this case is try to provide compensation and repay their terrible debt to the Polish nation and to humanity,” added Macierewicz, according to a report from Radio Poland.

A monument to the 1944 Warsaw Rising against the occupying Nazi Germans in Krasinski Square in Warsaw, Poland, July 4, 2017.
Czarek Sokolowski/AP

During the years of communist rule in Poland, which began after World War II and ended only in 1989, Poland did not received compensation from Germany because the communist government did not want to demand reparations from communist East Germany.

For Poland, the issue of German reparations is sensitive and charged. It is further complicated by calls heard from Israel and other Jewish communities for Poland to return Jewish property stolen from Jews during the war as well as during the period of communism that followed.

According to figures cited last year by Aharon Mor, the head of the Restitution of Rights and Jewish Property Department in the Prime Minister’s Office, about a quarter of all Jewish property left in Europe on the eve of World War II was in Poland, which refuses to return it to its owners or pay compensation for it.

Poland, unlike Germany, has not passed laws for returning or paying compensation for such property. Heirs of Jewish property have so far been required to sue for their property in court on an individual basis, in a complicated bureaucratic process.

After World War II, Germany paid various forms and amount of reparations (in cash or in territory) to a number of countries and citizens who suffered from the Nazi occupation. These included Poland, Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia. In addition, Germany paid reparations to Israel and the Jewish people as part of the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany.

But in the decades that have passed since, many individuals, institutions and countries have raised further demands for compensation from Germany for the damages caused by the war and occupation. The issue has been raised in Poland time after time in recent years, and it is not the only country where it is happening.

Greece has demanded hundreds of millions of euros in compensation from Germany a number of times in recent years, and a Greek parliamentary committee established two years named a figure. Germany rejected the demand, saying it paid reparations to Greece after the war.

Italy has also made reparations demands. Ten years ago the Italian Supreme Court ruled that Germany must compensate the families of hundreds of the victims of a Nazi massacre in Tuscany in 1944. Germany rejected the demand too, saying Italian courts have no authority to set compensation for Germany and that the matter had been settled in past agreements.