Sever Plocker
Sever Plocker
Photo: Shem Olam
A Polish Army Veteran attends a wreath laying ceremony marking national observances of the anniversary of World War II in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 1, 2022

Poland demands reparations from Germany, while Israel still waiting on unpaid debt

Opinion: The Polish demand for $1,3 billion in compensation over Nazi crimes has no chance of seeing itself through, but this should inspire our government to call on Germany to fulfill its financial obligations vis-à-vis the Jews

Sever Plocker |
Published: 09.10.22, 23:21
On September 1st, the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, the Polish government staged a festive event in the Royal Castle in Warsaw, where it unveiled a three-volume study titled, "Report on Poland's Damage as a Result of Aggression and the German Occupation Regime in World War II 1939-1945."
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  • The report was written in 2017 by a committee of the Polish House of Representatives, headed by Arkady Molarczyk, a delegate from the conservative-nationalist ruling Law and Justice party, whose leaders were present at the ceremony and spoke at length.
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    Poland Reparations
    Poland Reparations
    A Polish Army Veteran attends a wreath laying ceremony marking national observances of the anniversary of World War II in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 1, 2022
    (Photo: AP)
    The purpose of the report is to serve as a basis for the Polish government's demand for 6.2 trillion zloty (1,300 billion dollars) in compensation from Germany over what the Nazi regime did to the Polish nation during WWII.
    For the sake of comparison, the current value of the reparation agreement between West Germany and Israel, signed in Luxembourg in September 1995, is estimated at $54 billion.
    Poland's demands were made public in light of the anti-Germany incitement campaign that has been waged by the Polish government in the past year.
    The campaign is driven by the ruling party and is intended to target former Polish President Donald Tusk, who heads the liberal opposition party Civic Platform. Tusk is being portrayed by pro-Law and Justice media outlets as Germany's servant, but there is not a shred of truth in these accusations. They are, however, accepted by parts of the Polish public, which is united by its anger towards Germany's hesitant conduct in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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    הריסות בחרקוב
    הריסות בחרקוב
    Damage in Kharkiv, Ukraine, following Russian bombardment
    (Photo: AFP)
    There are, nevertheless, several technical, legal, and moral flaws in the Polish report. The technical problem is that it lacks any economic credibility, because neither Polish nor foreign economists or renowned historians were involved in it. It leans on questionable calculations and estimates, and on controversial and unconvincing assessment methods of the worth of human life and destroyed property.
    The legal-political issue is even more problematic. At the end of WWII, the Allied powers decided not to demand significant compensation from Germany, but to join forces to help the German state recover - on condition that it would be split into a liberal-democratic West Germany, and a communist and anti-capitalist East Germany.
    In 1953, communist Poland was informed that it would give up its financial claims against Germany, and its agreement to the move is recorded in UN chronicles. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Polish stance has remained unchanged - which played a major role in Poland being accepted into the European Union. As far as the Germans were concerned, the compensation issue with Poland has been resolved.
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    Poland Reparations
    Poland Reparations
    Poland's main ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski attends a wreath laying ceremony marking national observances of the anniversary of World War II in Warsaw
    (Photo: AP)
    The current Polish government, however, sees the demand for reparations as an attempt to fix "the inferiority complex of previous governments towards the Germans." In the eyes of Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice party, his people must be freed from the shameful complex.
    Finally, there is an ethical problem with this demand. Poland wants $900 billion in compensation for the murder of millions of Polish citizens, among them a "considerable amount" of Polish Jews, as Kaczyński himself mentioned.
    The "considerable amount" he speaks of - makes up at least 60% of all Polish victims. Additionally, the authors of the report estimate the damage to Polish property caused by the Germans to be at $170 billion.
    Immediately after the report was unveiled, history expert - Professor Jan Tomasz Gross, who exposed the burning of hundreds of Jews by their Polish neighbors in 1943 in the Polish town of Jedwabne - rhetorically asked: "On the basis of what moral principle does the government of Law and Justice demand money from the Germans on behalf of murders Jews? Does it intend to give Israel and Jewish organizations part of that compensation?"
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    The sign "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free) is pictured at the main gate of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz
    The sign "Arbeit macht frei" (Work makes you free) is pictured at the main gate of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz
    'Arbeit macht frei' (Work makes you free) sign is pictured at the main gate of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz
    (Photo: Reuters)
    The Polish demand has no chance of seeing itself through. But, it should raise questions regarding the stubborn refusal of the Israeli government to demand that Germany pay the share promised by East Germany as part of the original reparation agreement.
    East Germany's debt - a third of the overall compensation amount agreed upon - became pan-German debt upon reunification. It was never paid because Israel did not demand such a thing.
    We can only hope that the outrageous Polish demand will encourage Israel's leadership to insist the Germans repay its debt to Jewish survivors and descendants first.
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