Should Germany pay war reparations to Poland?

Over the last few weeks the Polish government has repeatedly called for reparations from Germany of up to 840 billion euros. Now a parliamentary report has come to the conclusion that Germany must compensate Poland for crimes committed during the Second World War. It finds that the waiver of payments in 1953 was unconstitutional. Commentators in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic discuss the demands.

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Gazeta Polska Codziennie (PL) /

Discrimination against Poland

For Gazeta Polska Codziennie the expert opinion confirms the fact that Poland is owed reparations:

“The conclusion of the report by the Sejm's Science Committee comes as no surprise. ... However, the report also calls attention to things that are less well known. For example that former forced labourers under the Third Reich were paid unusually low reparations. Or that we were among the countries that suffered the most. That shows that there were no reparations, and that the Polish state and the Poles were - and are still - discriminated against.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Past must not dictate the present

The German government must resort to legal means to fend off the claims now, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“If it doesn't it will pave the way for claims from other countries - Poland wasn't the only victim of Nazi aggression. In view of all the damage the Third Reich caused during World War II almost everywhere in Europe, compensating for all the suffering could be the ruin even of an economy as strong as Germany's. In addition, a common European response to the challenges of the present and the future will be impossible if the agenda is dictated by the crimes of the past. This wouldn't be in the interest of any country, including Poland, which has benefitted greatly from European unity over the last quarter of a century.”

Respekt (CZ) /

Warsaw's demands don't stand a chance

Poland knows full well that its demands for German reparations can never be enforced, Respekt comments:

“The official German answer is clear: three times now Poland has abstained from demanding reparations: in 1953, 1970 and once again after the collapse of communism in 1990. ... Moreover, Germany won't pay reparations simply because that would set a dangerous precedent. But if people in Poland are convinced that outstanding accounts have not been settled, one possibility would be to discuss reparations for specific individuals. The problem, however, is that the way the PiS has made its claims has ruled out any form of discussion or solution. Its uncompromising words to Germany are in fact directed at Polish ears - those of the PiS's voters.”

Polityka (PL) /

Adding fuel to the fire

Demanding reparations will only harm Poland's interests, columnist Adam Szostkiewicz warns in Polityka:

“Polish Foreign Minister Waszczykowski hasn't excluded the possibility of demanding reparations from Germany to the tune of a trillion dollars. The figure is random, but that's irrelevant. Because the real intention here is to add fuel to the fire. In any event, relations between the PiS and Berlin are so bad that there can be no talk of mending them. ... In the current situation it runs counter to Polish interests to play the reparations card, both from an economic and from a political perspective. Because that would confirm the prevailing view in the EU that Poland has strayed off course and moved from the centre of the Union to the periphery.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Why not demand reparations from Russia too?

Journalist Jacek Żakowski asks in a commentary in Gazeta Wyborcza why Poland's demands are always directed only at Germany:

“Why have the many PiS politicians who are so passionately demanding German reparations not made any mention of Russian reparations? After all, it was two states acting under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that invaded Poland in 1939. The material and human damage inflicted by Soviet aggression was immense. … I'm not going to try and estimate what losses the Soviets caused because we won't get a cent from Russia, just as we won't get anything from Germany. So it makes no sense to try and figure it out. If, however, the PiS sees fit to demand a trillion dollars from Germany, we may as well demand another trillion from Putin.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Preserve peace deal for cordial relations

What has become of the friendly relations between Germany and Poland, the Frankfurter Rundschau wonders:

“They were clearly based on various international post-war agreements and recognition of the fact that a third of Poland's territory once stood on German soil - including the city of Gdansk and Upper and Lower Silesia - as well as the fact that hundreds of thousands of expelled German families have not made a fuss over their losses. If this peace deal isn't acknowledged there can be no prosperous future for anyone. Both sides will suffer - the one side if it continues to lecture and issue loud threats to cut off Poland's EU funds for being disobedient. The other if it isolates itself internationally as a result of its manifold, futile and irrational provocations.” (PL) /

Germany must pay up instead of sermonizing

It's high time Germany paid for all the damage it caused in Poland during the Second World War, writes PiS MP Janusz Szewczak on

“Perhaps the reason behind the aggression against the new Polish government and the PiS and the desire to topple the party as quickly as possible is that the Germans realise that sooner or later Poland's government and the PiS will demand the compensation and reparations to which the country is entitled. … An effective policy of war reparations must be implemented vis-à-vis Germany, which in its pride and arrogance is trying to lecture the peoples of Europe on political culture, the rule of law, and discipline. It is time for historical justice; time for the Germans to pay their debts.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Old treaties are still valid

The reparation demands won't serve the cause of justice but are merely an attempt by the government to score points at home, Der Tagesspiegel argues:

“Particularly as the declarations made by former governments are being roundly rejected with the argument that the Communist People's Republic of Poland was just a 'puppet state' of the Soviet Union. Even if this was the case - it does not change the validity of government declarations one iota, not to mention that of the agreements. The obligations undertaken by the Soviet Union in the Potsdam Agreement of 1945 are incontestable. In 1953 the Polish government officially agreed to forego reparations. ... The other aspect here - one the claimants tend to forget - is the construction of a unified Europe in which the now-wiser states of the Old Continent have established a long-lasting peaceful order.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Warsaw is overstepping the mark here

The Czech Republic should be cautious about supporting Poland's demands for reparations, warns Lidové noviny:

“The cooperation between the Visegrád states makes sense on such issues as refugee quotas, for example. But it has its limits. ... Poland accuses Putin of living mentally in 1945 and yet itself seems to be under the spell of WWII. In the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, Germany acknowledged anew the Oder-Neiße border and Poland agreed to forego reparations. In so doing the country took its place among the conscientious European powers. If it now reopens this whole issue once more it will be resorting to the same tactics as Greece when it tried to blackmail Germany in the midst of the euro crisis.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

A cottage and a car will do for now

Michał Olszewski pokes fun at Poland's demands in an "open letter" to the German chancellor in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“Dear Frau Merkel, an official application for compensation for Poland's losses in World War II will soon on your treacherous desk. This application is justified: although 72 years have passed since the war ended, some accounts having to do with injustices suffered are still outstanding. ... The war is useful and will always play a role in Polish-German bookkeeping. ... Encouraged by our head of state [meaning PiS chairman Kaczyński], I have put some thought into how you could compensate me. ... For starters, a little house on Lake Wannsee near Berlin and a car (preferably a BMW) would suffice. ... So please pay up, and then be so good as to stop interfering in our affairs.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Justified demands should be presented objectively

The demands for reparations are undoubtedly justified but they should be presented in such a way that they don't jeopardise German-Polish relations, Rzeczpospolita advises:

“Berlin helped Poland to gain a foothold in the West and Poland finally forgave Germany's crimes and forgot its demands for compensation. Is there a reason to believe that this agreement no longer applies? There are worrying signs that Germany wants to change the way the EU functions - for example by making structural funds contingent on a country taking in refugees. ... There must not be a reversal in Polish foreign policy, it must not end its partnership with Germany. ... That doesn't mean that we shouldn't calmly - without all the anti-German rhetoric - set about listing the losses that Poland has incurred because of Germany.”