Poland says it will demand €1.3 trillion in WW2 reparations from Germany

Poland says it will demand €1.3 trillion in WW2 reparations from Germany
Warsaw's Royal Castle was completely destroyed in WW2 and rebuilt under the Communist regime. / Dennis Jarviss
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw September 2, 2022

Poland suffered nearly PLN6.23 trillion (€1.32 trillion) worth of losses at the hands of Nazi Germany during World War Two, Warsaw claimed in a report released on September 1, the 83rd anniversary of the war’s outbreak.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long said that the brutal German occupation of Poland in 1939 – 1945 has never been rectified. Critics of the government say, however, that PiS chooses to “play the German card” every time it faces domestic problems to divert attention and rally its voter base around an emotionally charged issue.

Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, subjugating the Polish defences in just four weeks to start an occupation that left 6mn Polish citizens – including nearly all of its 3mn Polish Jews – dead.

Much of the Polish capital Warsaw was destroyed entirely, while many key cities were severely damaged.

“It is still an open question how wealthy and strong the Polish state and its citizens would be if it had not been for the mass extermination of the population and the war destruction,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said during the presentation of the losses report at Warsaw’s Royal Castle, one of the symbols of post-war reconstruction of Poland.

“Today we are obliged to count these losses as accurately as possible. And, based on these calculations, present a bill to pay by those who are guilty of it,” Morawiecki added.

Serving a bill to Berlin may be easy but an actual legal way to winning a single reparation euro will be thorny, if not impossible to go along.

Poland's post-WW2 communist government resigned from war reparations under pressure from the Soviet Union in the 1950s, although the deal was between Poland and Soviet-run East Germany only.

The PiS government now says that that deal is invalid, as Poland – a Soviet Union satellite state – had no free hand to make foreign policy decisions, especially concerning Moscow’s key outpost.

West Germany paid some reparations to Polish war victims between 1970 and the early 1990s but PiS says that the payouts were too low.

"The German government's position is unchanged: the reparations question is closed. Poland renounced further reparations a long time ago, in 1953, and has since repeatedly confirmed this,” a spokesman for Germany’s foreign affairs ministry said, according to a report by Reuters. 

Germany is by far Poland’s biggest trade partner. Yet Warsaw has stoked anti-German sentiment of late, claiming in the government-friendly media that Berlin is nearly single-handedly ruling the European Union to the disadvantage of poorer member states like Poland.

The criticism intensified after Russia attacked Ukraine in February, with Poland accusing Germany of ignoring warnings about Russia’s imperial resentments.

Poland also warned Berlin against becoming too dependent on Russian gas, which has indeed played out to Germany’s disadvantage recently after Russia limited supplies, causing gas prices to spike and recession worries to loom large.

Germany’s dragging its feet in helping Ukraine has also drawn criticism from Warsaw, itself a major hub of humanitarian and military help for Kyiv.

PiS also claims that the Polish opposition – the biggest opposition party Civic Platform and its leader Donald Tusk in particular – are German pawns. Tusk said that the reparations issue was "a political campaign to rebuild support for the ruling party".

PiS is seeking an unprecedented third consecutive term in office in a general election due in the autumn of 2023.