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Poland, Germany Vow to Squash Reparations Claims

Hardy Graupner (dc)
September 27, 2004

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka appealed to the common sense of those Germans and Poles currently trying to revive a debate about World War II reparation claims.

Belka and Schröder presented a united front in BerlinImage: AP

Following official talks in Berlin, both Schröder and Belka once again declared on Monday that the chapter on reparations has been closed.

Addressing the controversial claims made by ethnic Germans to reclaim the land they lost when they were expelled at the end of WWII, the two leaders said that joint efforts would be made to prevent the situation from deepening the rift Polish-German relations.

Among the ideas, the creation of a bilateral committee of legal experts who will seek to pre-empt any court proceedings initiated by representatives of ethnic Germans who were expelled from present-day Poland after the collapse of the Third Reich.

No more oil on the fire

“I hope that our opposition conservative leaders will now step up their efforts to silence those in their ranks who’ve chosen to pour more oil on the fire in recent weeks," Schröder said at a press conference following his meeting with Belka. "It should be clear to anyone that restitution claims won’t lead anywhere, but will only poison relations between our two nations.”

The Polish prime minister also rejected the resolution passed by the Polish parliament, the Sejm, earlier this month calling for Germans to pay damages for the Nazi occupation of their country. He said that the issue had been dealt with at length in the past, and was settled once and for all.

"Calling for fresh negotiations on this matter does not only harm our bilateral relations, but relations between Poland and the European Union as a whole,” Belka added.

Claims and counter-claims

The fresh debate about reparations claims was triggered some weeks ago by a small group representing an estimated 2.5 million ethnic Germans who were expelled or fled from present-day Poland when Germany's borders shifted at the end of World War II. The group has threatened to take their claims to Polish and European courts in a bid to receive restitution for ancestral property.

In response, the Polish parliament adopted a resolution calling for reparations for "the enormous material and spiritual destruction caused by German aggression, occupation, and genocide."

Bilateral tensions over reparation claims peaked last week when the head of Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, told a German news journal that the issue of reparation payments would be made a priority should his party be voted into power during the forthcoming elections in October.