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To overcome the crisis, Greece is trying to get some money back from Germany.

Greece's deputy finance minister said on Monday Germany owes Greece nearly 279 billion euros ($305.17 billion) in reparations for the Nazi occupation of the country.

Is this request based on solid grounds or it's just propaganda?
What I mean is, does Greece have the right to ask for this money or the compensation for the war was already settled back in time and they now have zero possibilities to get something back based on legal grounds?

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    "does Greece have the right to ask for this money" - absolutely yes. Whether they have the right to have anyone take them asking seriously - or whether their asking has legal grounds - is a wholly separate question. – user4012 Apr 7 '15 at 17:31
  • I said "on legal grounds" – Geeo Apr 7 '15 at 17:32
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    Also... somewhat offtopic, but considering how the last time someone won reparations from Germany ended up ... – user4012 Apr 7 '15 at 17:36
  • And somewhat ontopic, the details of the claims seem to be analyzed in Forbes pretty well: forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/09/12/… – user4012 Apr 7 '15 at 17:41
  • @DVK that forbes article has some issues which I'll (indirectly) address in my answer shortly. But you raise an interesting point: The 1953 debt conference deliberately lessened the load on Germany for that exact reason: library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/10137.pdf – user45891 Apr 7 '15 at 17:44
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TL;DR According to various sources, they do not have a legal right to (further) reparations. However that was only possible because of some legal trickery.

In layman terms it went like this:

  • 1953: Please wait with your claims until we are prosperous and can pay them without inconvenience.
  • 1990: Now that Germany is re-unified your claims have no legal basis anymore. And it has been so long, let the past behind.

Whether they actually do or don't have those rights is for some court to decide - many reputable sources say no, so this is the best information currently available.


I'll try to separate the two claims - which isn't easy because it seems that there is some disagreement: The Independent says my point a) comes to the sum given in b), while other sources don't mention a) at all.

Part A

a) A forced loan for 476 million Reichsmarks (which given various accumulated interest rates comes to varying numbers)

The highlighted part of the image shown above literally translates to remaining debt without specifying what kind of debt (For completion: The top column just says total sum given to the Wehrmacht - again not specifying what kind of debt).# The Welt, quoting a Tagesschau interview, claims that it in fact wasn't a loan but occupation costs which were billed to Greece (It also claims that at the time this practice was legal by international law).
However in practice those costs were treated like a (zero interest) loan. Funds not used were given back and the fact that this money would be payed back was contractually obliged (however without a fixed due date).

Whether treating it like a loan converts it into one is, AFAIK, legally uncharted territory.

Part B

b) War reparations totaling $302 billion

I'm not sure about the methodology that lead to this number, however whether there should be war reparations has never been a question: The Allied Commission of Paris in 1946 decided that Germany must pay Greece $7.1 billion 1938 dollars.

It seems like this agreement denies the right to request further payments:

The Signatory Governments agree among themselves that their respective shares of reparation, as determined by the present Agreement, shall be regarded by each of them as covering all its claims and those of its nationals against the former German Government and its Agencies, of a governmental or private nature, arising out of the war (which are not otherwise provided for), including costs of German occupation, credits acquired during occupation on clearing accounts and claims against the Reichskreditkassen (source)

Some amount has been paid to Greece - Bloomberg:

German postwar reparations included a 115 million deutsche mark ($66 million) payment to Greece in 1960 and $20 billion in payments linked to demands made at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, according to the German government.

Due to extremely bad experiences other countries had with getting reparations payments from Germany the London 1953 Debt Conference lessened the load on Germany (e.g. this, or a more complete study).
Article 5.2 explicitly states that further claims shall be deferred until the problem of reparations is settled.

Tricky Legal Part

The Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany created a sovereign German state without any legal obligations to the previous states on that territory.
It explicitly is NOT a peace treaty -

Due to "economical considerations" there is "no interest" for a peace treaty, general secretary Friedrich Voss explained. An einem "Friedensvertrag" könne man "aus finanziellen Erwägungen kein Interesse haben", erklärte Staatssekretär Friedrich Voss. (source)

It is true that there is no reference to reparations, but this is deliberate, as the summary note prepared by the French negotiators confirms: "The Moscow Treaty [The 2 + 4 Treaty] does not contain all the clauses of a peace treaty; and it does not bear the name. In particular it does not mention the problem of reparations. ..." (source)

The trick was only letting the CCCP, the US, UK, France and the two Germanys write the contract.

[a peace treaty would] necessarily empower the former war combatants of the Reich which is neither in the interest of the Axis nor the two German states.
Es „hätte zwangsläufig alle früheren Kriegsgegner des Deutschen Reiches als potentielle Vertragspartner auf den Plan gerufen […]“, woran aber „[w]eder die Vier Mächte noch die beiden deutschen Staaten […] ein Interesse [haben konnten]“ Recht zwischen Umbruch und Bewahrung: Völkerrecht, Europarecht, Staatsrecht: Festschrift für Rudolf Bernhardt

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  • I don't really have a conclusion but I found this article interesting too: blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2015/02/09/… which does answer some of the questions that arise from all this – user45891 Apr 7 '15 at 18:04
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    I don't think the question can be answered so definitely. All this is clearly relevant and it's true that Germany took great care to avoid the term “peace treaty” and laid the ground for a plausible way to deny the claim but it's not clear why others should readily accept this interpretation or why Greece would think it is binding. Also, as you wrote, there are at least two distinct claims (I seem to recall a third one but I don't remember the details right now) but your reasoning does not really explain how the first one disappears. – Relaxed Apr 8 '15 at 0:05
  • I think modern Germany ever considered itself a successor of West Germany. – Anixx Apr 8 '15 at 12:16
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    @Anixx You are right. In fact it's more than that, the reunification wasn't as much a reunification as an entry (Beitritt) of some new regions within the existing framework. While the West German Grundgesetz had provisions to be replaced by a completely new constitution at this occasion, that's not the choice that was made in 1990. – Relaxed Apr 8 '15 at 13:11
  • @Relaxed you're absolutely right, I should clarify that the lengthy discussion doesn't seem to address the loan. I'll also put a disclaimer at the end (beginning?) that this isn't "court-tested" absolutly true information but just the best currently available. – user45891 Apr 8 '15 at 19:25
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It is not based on solid ground. The current German state is not what the alliance destroyed in 1945, it is another state. Despite that there are various international treaties making for them obligatory to pay for the crimes of another state which existed decades before the birth of most actual German.

The Greeks are doing this to divert the attention of the people from their own politicans - who created the debts decades ago, to buy votes for the elections.

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    The FRG is the legal successor of the German Reich. – Martin Schröder Apr 8 '15 at 13:56
  • @MartinSchröder Ok. There wasn't constitutional continuity. International law can declare Germany as a successor state (which practically means, they must pay), but what actually happened there in 1945 was the destruction of a state and years later the creation of a new one. – Gray Sheep Apr 9 '15 at 11:27
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    The FRG declared that itself. – Martin Schröder Apr 9 '15 at 11:38
  • @MartinSchröder You are talking about law. I am talking about justice. – Gray Sheep Jul 3 '15 at 19:17
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    @GraySheep : this question is about law. – Evargalo Aug 22 '18 at 13:35

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