Warsaw has the right to demand reparations from Germany potentially worth $850 billion for destroyed property and people killed during World War Two, the politician in charge of reparations said on Friday.
The Polish ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has revived the issue of war reparations at a time when Israeli politicians accuse it of attempting to whitewash the role of Poles in German war crimes against Jews during the conflict.
German parliamentary legal experts said last year that Warsaw had no right to demand reparations.
The Polish government stopped short of making a direct claim to Germany but the issue could lead to tensions between the two EU governments, analysts say. Germany is Poland’s largest trade partner and Poland is the biggest recipient of EU aid.
“We are talking about very large but justified sums for war crimes, for the destroyed cities, the lost demographic potential of our country,” Arkadiusz Mularczyk, the head of the parliamentary committee on reparations, told Polsat News broadcaster.
Mularczyk said the value of reparations due from Germany could reach $850 billion but this sum could be revised as new estimates would be made later this year.
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The PiS lawmaker said Poland, which came under Soviet domination for more than four decades after the war, never received war reparations from Germany.
PiS revived the issue at a time when U.S. senators approved a bill directing the United States to help in efforts aimed at the restitution of heirless Jewish property to assist Holocaust survivors.
PiS has invoked Germany’s occupation of Poland during World War Two as part of efforts it says aims to promote patriotism at home, and to counter accusations that some Poles were also perpetrators of wartime crimes against the Jews.
Nazi Germany, together with the Soviet Union, attacked and occupied Poland in 1939. Nazis killed most of the 3.2 million Jews that lived in Poland.
Poland never surrendered to Nazi Germany and lost about 3 million of its non-Jewish citizens during the war, including many of its intellectuals and elite. The capital Warsaw was razed to the ground by Nazis in 1944 after a failed uprising in which 200,000 civilians died.
The reparations issue has complicated Poland’s diplomatic work with Berlin, two sources at the foreign ministry told Reuters.
“Our ties with Germany could be better and this does not help,” one source said.