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Poland: German WWII damage worth $1.3 trillion

September 1, 2022

A parliamentary committee in Poland has filed its estimate on the economic damage caused by Germany's invasion and occupation in World War II. Germany responded that it considers the issue "closed."

German troops parade through Warsaw, Poland, archive image from 1939.
Poland's government timed the release of the report to coincide with the anniversary of Germany's September 1, 1939 invasion, seen by most as the start of what would become World War IIImage: Edisto Images/Newscom/picture alliance

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland's ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, on Thursday presented a report looking into the financial damages caused by Germany's invasion and occupation in World War II. 

Kaczynski said a parliamentary committee found the losses amounted to 6.2 trillion zlotys (roughly $1.32 trillion or €1.32 trillion) and added that Poland would officially demand reparations. Berlin later responded, stating it considers the issue of reparations to Poland for the war "closed."

The sum, which represents around one-third of Germany's present-day GDP and around one-sixth of global GDP during the war itself, is higher than previous estimates of around €850 billion from members of the nationalist PiS party. 

"The sum that was presented was adopted using the most limited, conservative method, it would be possible to increase it," Kaczynski said in Warsaw. 

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also attended Thursday's ceremonial release of the report at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, rebuilt from wartime ruins. Though Morawiecki is the head of the government, party leader Kaczynski is still seen as the driving force within PiS.

Poland to demand WWII reparations from Germany

The report was released to coincide with the anniversary of Germany's September 1, 1939 invasion of Poland, now broadly perceived as the start of what would become World War II. Poland was also invaded by the Soviet Union from the east roughly two weeks later, as part of a then-secret deal between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviets carving up eastern Europe between them. 

Some 6 million Poles, including roughly 3 million Polish Jews, were killed during the war and Warsaw was razed to the ground following a 1944 uprising in which about 200,000 civilians died. 

Germany has previously said that all reparations questions had been settled in prior agreements. PiS has often floated the idea of claiming more, but to date had not done so formally. 

The issue has strained often prickly bilateral relations in recent years. And the war in Ukraine has prompted renewed criticism of Germany from Warsaw, which blames Berlin for strategic errors including an excessive reliance on Russian energy and being too slow to provide weapons to either Ukraine or Poland itself.

Duda: War among 'most terrible tragedies in our history'

Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a ceremony earlier on Thursday at the Westerplatte peninsula near Gdansk, one of the first places attacked in the Nazi invasion, that the war was "one of the most terrible tragedies in our history." 

"Not only because it took our freedom, not only because it took our state from us, but also because this war meant millions of victims among Poland's citizens and irreparable losses to our homeland and our nation," Duda said. 

The German government's official for German-Polish cooperation, Dietmar Nietan, said in a statement that September 1 "remains a day of guilt and shame for Germany that reminds us time and again not to forget the crimes carried out by Germany." He called the war "the darkest chapter in our history," noting it continues to harm bilateral ties. 

Opposition: Government whipping up anti-German sentiment

Polish opposition leader and former Prime Minister Donald Tusk said earlier on Thursday that in his view, the government was not really concerned with reparations from Germany, but was trying to drum up support domestically. 

"PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski makes no secret of the fact that he wants to build up support for the ruling party with this anti-German campaign," Tusk said. 

Poland's handling of World War II history has become increasingly internationally contentious since PiS came to power. The governments of Israel, Germany and others have repeatedly clashed over a series of laws, such as preventing Jewish families from trying to reclaim property seized during the Holocaust and outlawing mentions of some Polish participation in the Holocaust. Warsaw later removed the possibility for a jail term or criminal penalties for saying this, after the US threatened to downgrade its relations with Poland over concerns on free speech. 

ar, msh/nm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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