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Greece tallies up the WWII reparations bill

Greece owes Germany billions of euros. Or is it the other way around? Seventy years after the end of World War II, Athens and Berlin are still at odds over costs incurred during the Nazi occupation of Greece.

In May 1941, Nazi Germany invaded Greece, and raised the swastika flag at the Acropolis in Athens. The Wehrmacht occupied the country until 1944, with troops marauding and looting towns across the entire peninsula. The economic fallout from the war and the years of occupation have been a matter of controversy ever since.

Greece feels it was at a disadvantage in international reparations negotiations after the end of the war. New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has estimated that Germany owes Greece billions of euros - and has insisted on resolving the matter. For its part, the German government has repeatedly refused such demands and has insisted Greek claims have already been compensated in previous reparation payments.

Forced loans for the occupiers

Damage done during the war, including destruction, looting and murder, is one issue. In accordance with a 1960 agreement, the German government paid 115 million deutschmarks in reparation payments to Greek victims of the Nazi regime. The sum was regarded as covering all demands for individual damages.

German soldiers looting store

Occupied Greece: German soldiers "help themselves" to the goods

But the other issue is a loan Greece was forced to make to Germany. In 1942, Nazi Germany forced the Greek national bank to pay out an interest-free loan to the tune of 476 million Reichsmarks. The Nazis used the money to finance the their occupation of Greece as well as military operations. The loan was never repaid. A Greek committee has come to the conclusion that Germany therefore owes Greece about 11 billion euros ($12.48 billion).

Peace, but no treaty

The German government says the question of reparations has been closed.

The first conference on reparations, in Paris in the fall of 1945, granted Greece a percentage of Germany's reparation payments for WWII damages. Athens received non-cash benefits worth up to 2 billion euros.

In the 1953 London Debt Agreement, the Western allies not only postponed settling further demands for reparations until the signing of a peace accord - they also granted Germany a debt reduction.

However, there never was an official peace treaty between Germany and the Allied powers. Instead, the so-called Two-plus-Four -Agreement on the final settlement with respect to what was then East and West Germany took effect in 1990. The agreement was recognized by Greece and provides for no further reparation payments.

New debt, new problems

While the issue of reparations has long remained under the surface of international discussion, Greece's economic crisis has brought the issue back into focus as Athens looks for ways to pay its bills.


Alexis Tsipras wants German war reparations

In 2010, Athens was forced to ask the EU for help to prevent state bankruptcy. Germany loaned Greece about 65 billion euros for that very purpose.

Even before he took office as Greek prime minister, Tsipras had pushed for charging the country's debt against German reparation payments. Some Greek legal experts say that could be a feasible model. Their main argument, however, is limited to repayment of the forced loan - not reparations. Most international experts have ruled out the possibility of new repartition payment negotiations.

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