German Bid to Reconcile With Greece Over Nazi Atrocities Lags

Updated on
German Armed Forces in Greece 1941

Members of Germany's armed forces overlook Athens after the conquest of the city, May 1941. Photographer: Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture-alliance/dpa via AP Photo

A German government fund meant as a gesture of atonement for Nazi atrocities in Greece during World War II is languishing as the two countries spar over Greece’s future financing, German officials said.

With Greece and other euro-area governments deadlocked over completing the nation’s 240 billion-euro ($270 billion) bailout and possibly starting a new aid program, the German initiative begun last year is unlikely to get off the ground before a deal is in place, said two German government officials who asked not to be identified because their discussions with Greek counterparts are private. Greece’s government hasn’t proposed any projects yet, one official said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has ruled out war reparations to the Greek state, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government tallied in April at 278.7 billion euros. Instead, she’s backing the idea of joint projects with German money through a “fund for the future” with an annual budget of 1 million euros.

Merkel and Tsipras are grappling with Germany’s wartime past as she fends off demands by Greek politicians for reparations while trying to resolve Greece’s immediate financing crisis and keep the country in the euro.

When the two leaders met in March in Berlin, Tsipras said war claims are “not primarily of a material nature” but rather a “moral issue.”

Nazi Massacres

The two leaders also pledged to avoid national stereotyping as Greece’s aid needs spur a backlash in other euro-area countries, including Germany.

“If you then say, well, the Greeks don’t work hard and the Germans work hard but are stingy -- that’s not correct,” Merkel said during a debate on Europe with high-school students in Berlin on Tuesday.

German officials say Greece is among the countries that suffered the most under Nazi occupation, with some 200,000 dead between 1941 and 1944. Parliament set up the fund last year, saying the two nations need to develop a joint “culture of remembrance” and promote reconciliation, including through youth exchanges and historical research.

Germany is ready to fund civic projects in Greek villages where Nazi soldiers massacred civilians and to help Jewish communities, including the one in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-biggest city, the Foreign Ministry said in September.

German President Joachim Gauck initiated the effort on a visit to Greece in March 2014 that included a trip to Ligiades, a mountain village where German soldiers killed men, women and children in 1943 in reprisal for a guerrilla attack.

Gauck, whose post is mostly ceremonial, asked forgiveness for Nazi atrocities and voiced shame that postwar Germans “knew and learned so little about Germany’s guilt toward the Greeks.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE