It was 1943 and the Nazis were deporting Greece’s Jews to death camps in Poland. Hitler’s genocidal accountants reserved a chilling twist: The Jews had to pay their train fare.
The bill for 58,585 Jews sent to Auschwitz and other camps exceeded two million Reichsmark — more than €25m in today’s money.
For decades, this was a forgotten footnote among all of the greater horrors of the Holocaust. Today it is returning to the fore amid the bitter row between Athens and Berlin over the Greek financial bailout.
Jewish leaders in Thessaloniki, home to Greece’s largest Jewish community, say they are considering how to reclaim the rail fares from Germany — with seven decades of interest. “We will study the law and do our best to claim,” said community president, David Saltiel.
Such a move would suit the new government in Athens, which is trying to shift the public focus from Greece’s current debt crisis to Germany’s World War II debts ahead of today’s first visit to Berlin by Greece’s new prime minister Alexis Tsipras.
While war reparations have been a staple demand of previous Greek governments, the radical left government of Tsipras has made the issue a central part of the bailout negotiations with Germany. The Germans dismiss such demands
However, the Greeks point out that, after its wartime defeat, Germany received one of the biggest bailouts in modern history within a decade of laying waste to much of Europe. Greece was among 22 countries that agreed to halve Germany’s foreign debt at a conference in London in 1953.
Some German politicians have called for a change of heart on the reparations. They argue that if Germany doesn’t confront its World War II guilt, it cannot expect other countries to repay their more recent debts.
Among the claims that Greece might bring:
Tens, possibly hundreds, of billions of euro in present-day money as compensation for destroyed infrastructure and goods, including archaeological treasures, looted by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944.
Compensation for the estimated 300,000 people who died from famine during the winter of 1941-1942.
Compensation for the slaughter of civilians. One of the most infamous took place in the Greek village of Distomo on June 10, 1944, when SS soldiers killed more than 200 women, children and elderly residents.
Another in Kalavryta in December 1943 involved German troops killing more than 500 civilians.
Repayment of an interest-free loan of 568m Reichsmark (€7.1bn) that the Nazis forced Greece to make to Germany in 1942.
Reparations paid by Germany since 1945 include: €23m in goods shortly after the war; Greece says the proper sum should have been nearer €13bn.
115m Deutschmarks — equal to €305m today — as part of a 1960 treaty with Greece meant to compensate victims of Nazi atrocities, including Greek Jews.
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