Warsaw, Poland – Two lawmakers from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) recently revived the contentious issue of Germany’s World War II reparations.
A $900 billion dollar bill to Germany?
In an interview with WPolityce, Janusz Szewczak, a PiS lawmaker and member of the parliamentary team in charge of calculating the sum Germany allegedly owes to Poland for the damages caused during World War II, said that Warsaw will issue a bill for “at least 900 billion dollars” (around 800 million euros) for destroyed property and people killed during the conflict.
Linking historical wounds with current disputes, he added: “As long as Germany hasn’t paid back the debt it owes to Poland for World War II, [the German government] will have to exercise exceptional restraint in its attacks against the Polish government”.
Arkadiusz Mularczyk, the head of that parliamentary committee, stated a few days earlier that the value of the reparations could reach 850 billion dollars. “We are talking about very large but justified sums for war crimes, for the destroyed cities, the lost demographic potential of our country”, he told Polsat News broadcaster.
A recurring demand from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party
Since 2015, the ruling Law and Justice party has revived the issue of war reparations as a way to boost national sentiment while simultaneously attempting to downplay and minimize the role of Poles in Nazi Germany’s war crimes and mass extermination of Jews – as Poland’s recent diplomatic spat with Israel demonstrated.
In 2017, head of PiS Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that “Poland had never received compensation for enormous war damages that have not been fully covered until the present day”. Last year, Polish President Andrzej Duda also called Germany to foot the bill for World War II damages: “In my view, reparations payments are not a topic that’s been dealt with”, he told the Sunday edition of Bild a few days after a state visit to Berlin last October.
Legal disputes and moral considerations
But for Germany, the matter has been closed for decades, with lawmakers repeatedly pointing out that there was no legal ground for Warsaw to demand war reparations and government officials getting wary of Polish officials’ exploitation of the matter for what they see as electoral purposes.
On both sides of the border, German and Polish legal experts have been crossing swords over the issue for decades with contending interpretations of the 1953 Declaration of the Polish Government and the so-called “Two Plus Four Agreement” of 1990 – through which Poland relinquished its right to demand war reparations, according to Germany.
“Polish lawyers disagree with the opinion” of Germany, which treats the Republic of Poland as the legal successor of the Polish People’s Republic, argued Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz in 2018, adding there was also a “moral consideration” to be taken into account.
A long-standing thorn in the side of Polish-German relations, the topic of war reparations won’t be going away any time soon. But it’s also more than unlikely Berlin will ever agree to foot a 900 billion dollar bill.