Mr Gauck arrived in Greece yesterday after accepting an invitation by Greece’s head of state, President Karolos Papoulias. The visit is intended to demonstrate German solidarity with Greece but has triggered renewed calls for the Greek government to pursue the issue of war reparations.
While the German government has stated that the issue is closed, many believe that Greece has legitimate claims, both due to the enormous damage and loss of life suffered by the country at the hands of the Nazis and because of a huge loan the Greek government was forced to make to Hitler’s government which has never been repaid. The current Greek government has committed to examining the legal basis of the case. The issue was referred to the Legal Council of the State and is now being examined by a special all-party parliamentary committee that is due to prepare a report by the end of the year.
During his visit Mr Gauck will pay tribute to victims of Nazi brutality in a visit to the province of Ioannina on Friday and has also stated that German has a ‘moral’ debt to Greece in a recent interview. Yet in the same interview he refused to discuss demands that Germany pay economic reparations.
Meanwhile in Athens the police have prohibited public demonstrations in light of the German President’s visit for reasons of ‘public security’. Yet this has not prevented protesters demonstrating against high unemployment and government austerity policies from clashing with riot police (link in Greek).
TPPI Explainer: Who is Manolis Glezos? (click to expand)
Manolis Glezos, 91, is a left-wing politician and a sitting SYRIZA member of parliament. He is well known for his activity as part of the resistance to the German WWII occupation. In April 1941 together with Apostolos Santas he is said to have climbed up to the Acropolis and torn down the swastika flag in a symbolic gesture that inspired the citizens of Athens. Despite his advanced years he remains a highly influential voice in SYRIZA.
“The time has finally arrived for Germany to accept its responsibility and express its regret over the crimes committed by the Third Reich in Greece.
[Today] the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Joachim Gauck will visit Greece. We will express to him our honest respect and appreciation of the German people with whom we stand in solidarity. But we will also try to remind him of his country’s outstanding obligations with regards to history.
As we are informed by the media, President Gauck is due to visit the Jewish community of Ioannina which was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis, its members violently transported to the ovens of hell solely because they were Jewish. He will also visit Ligiades: a small village in the hills above Ioannina where, on the 3rd of October 1943, Nazi forces murdered in cold blood 82 innocent and peace-loving citizens, among whom were babies, children, women and the old and infirm. A holocaust which remained untold for decades until a great German, Professor Christophe Schminck-Gustavus, after many years of systematic research, brought proof of the event to light. And we owe him a debt of gratitude!
More than 100 holocausts were perpetrated in our country by the Nazi occupying forces with tens of thousands of victims, 1,770 villages destroyed and more than 400,000 homes razed. Our country experienced an unprecedented tragedy, one which in extent and intensity is not approached by any other country. It is the only one which, after the occupation, had a smaller population than when it began. Due to bombings, executions, famine, disease, and reduced fertility our country lost 13.4% of its population. The USSR 10%, Poland 8%. Yugoslavia 6%. At the same time it suffered an incredible economic catastrophe: our infrastructure was destroyed, our resources were looted. At the same time our cultural treasures were stolen and taken to Germany.
And yet, 70 years after the end of the occupation our country has not received from Germany any redress, any compensation! When indeed all of the other countries invaded by Germany have received reparations from Germany. All of them except Greece! Why? And furthermore: the loan Greece was forced to make has not been repaid to our country whereas Germany has repaid the equivalent obligatory loans made by Poland and Yugoslavia. Finally the archaeological treasures and priceless works of art which were stolen from Greece have not been returned. Why? What is the reason for this particularly harsh treatment of us?
The visit to Greece of the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Germany is doubtlessly an important move that is highly symbolic. It is also an opportunity for it to become more than that. It is time at last for Germany to take responsibility and express its contrition over the crimes of the Third Reich in Greece. Honestly and substantively! To break through the wall of inaction and harshness towards us. If there is a will, we will find a way to solve our differences. In a democratic and mutually acceptable way without enmity and pain.
“Justice! Not revenge,” is our cry. Seventy years after the end of the occupation and twenty-four years after the unification of Germany, the time has finally come for the substantive recognition by the Federal Republic of Germany of the sacrifices made by the Greek people. Sacrifices that contributed majorly to the liberation of Europe and of Germany itself from the Nazi yoke. But is is also a necessary prerequisite for us to leave behind once and for all the dark chapter of Nazism and for the two countries and two peoples in unity to open a new chapter of peace, friendship and cooperation on the basis of equality, honesty and mutual understanding. And then we will have won a positive future for the generations to come!”