Germany rejects Poland's claim it owes €1.3 trillion in war 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, Poland. Credit: AP

Germany has rejected a claim made by Poland's top politician that it owes Poland some $1.3 trillion (£1.1 million) in reparations for the Nazis’ World War II invasion and occupation of the country by saying compensation has been paid.

Christofer Burger, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, was responding to claims made by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the main ruling party who made the statement at the release of a long-awaited report on the cost to the country of years of Nazi German occupation on Friday.

"This issue is closed from the point of view of the Federal Government," Burger said on Friday.

Germany argues compensation was paid to East Bloc nations in the years after the war while territories that Poland lost in the East as borders were redrawn were compensated with some of Germany’s pre-war lands. Berlin calls the matter closed.

“Poland long ago, in 1953, waived further reparations and has repeatedly confirmed this waiver,” the ministry said.

“This is a significant basis for today’s European order. Germany stands by its responsibility for World War II politically and morally.”

World War II began on September 1, 1939 with Nazi Germany bombing and invading Poland for more than five years of brutal occupation.

Poland’s right-wing government argues that the country, which was the war’s first victim, has not been fully compensated by neighbouring Germany, which is now one of its major partners within the European Union.

"Germany has never really accounted for its crimes against Poland,“ Kaczynski said, claiming that many Germans who committed war crimes lived in impunity in Germany after the war.

Top leaders including Kaczynski, who is Poland’s chief policy maker, and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended the ceremonial release of the report at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, rebuilt from wartime ruins.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

The head of the report team, lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk, said it was impossible to place a financial value on the loss of some 5.2 million lives he blamed on the German occupation.

He listed losses to the infrastructure, industry, farming, culture, deportations to Germany for forced labour and efforts to turn Polish children into Germans.

A team of more than 30 economists, historians and other experts worked on the report since 2017. The issue has created bilateral tensions.

In Germany, the government’s official for German-Polish cooperation, Dietmar Nietan, said in a statement that September 1 “remains a day of guilt and shame for Germany that reminds us time and again not to forget the crimes carried out by Germany” that are the “darkest chapter in our history” and still affect bilateral relations.

Reconciliation offered by people in Poland is “the basis on which we can look toward the future together in a united Europe,” Nietan said.

Poland’s government rejects a 1953 declaration by the country’s then-communist leaders, under pressure from the Soviet Union, agreeing not to make any further claims on Germany.

In a country where bullet holes from the war could still be seen on houses not so long ago, recent surveys have shown that Polish public opinion is roughly equally divided on the issue of reparations. Many families still keep alive memories of family members lost in the war.

Some 6 million of Poland’s citizens, including 3 million Jews, were killed in the war. Some of them were victims of the Soviet Red Army that invaded from the east.