Poland seeks Nazi wartime damages worth over a trillion dollars from Germany

Some 6 million Poles died during the World War II. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WARSAW - Poland's ruling nationalist party issued a controversial demand for World War II compensation from Germany, saying destruction wrought by the Nazis caused damage worth about US$1.3 trillion.

The sum, equivalent to more than twice Poland's annual economic output, returns the European neighbours to a debate over wartime reparations nearly eight decades after the war ended.

While Polish officials have repeated the demand in various forms, Germany has maintained its financial obligations from the war are settled.

The long-delayed report on wartime losses by the ruling Law & Justice party was unveiled yesterday in Warsaw on the 83rd anniversary of Adolf Hitler's invasion that triggered World War II.

Mr Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party leader and Poland's most powerful politician, said Germany has never really compensated the country for the atrocities.

"Germany invaded Poland and then caused us serious losses," Mr Kaczynski said at the ornate ceremony in the capital's rebuilt Royal Castle, attended by top party officials.

"We can't simply accept it and move on, just because someone believes that somehow Poland stands lower than other countries."

The claims have political relevance for Law & Justice, who have repeatedly aimed excoriating rhetoric at Berlin, especially ahead of next year's election.

The contest in late 2023 will test the party's sagging popularity on the back of rising inflation and its inability to tap European Union recovery funds in a long-running fight over the rule of law in Poland.

The barbed language has escalated. At a political rally last month, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Germans are "the descendants of destroyers and criminals" who must compensate Nazi victims to finally "turn the page" on their horrific history.

Mr Adam Glapinski, Poland's central bank chief, made a blunt claim that Germany's push for Warsaw to join the euro was part of territorial ambitions for lands lost in World War II.

"We haven't seen such a festival of anti-German phobia since communism ended" in 1989, said Mr Piotr Buras, who leads the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a pro-EU think tank.

"With elections a year away, Law & Justice doesn't have many good ways to prop up its popularity, so it must go on the offensive and identify an enemy - and Germany is a good candidate for one."

Poland's legal path to pursue claims may be difficult.

The country's communist-led government renounced its right to seek payments from Germany in 1953, though some historians argue it was done under duress from the Soviet Union.

Greece has also repeatedly pushed the issue with Germany, a subject that was compounded by tensions during the euro crisis.

The Greek Parliament has set a minimum claim of about US$269 billion over the Axis powers' invasion of the country from 1941 to 1944.

Some 6 million Poles - half of them Jews - died during the World War II, while Warsaw was razed to the ground.

The destruction gave way to Soviet occupation and four decades of communist rule.

Mr Kaczynski said Poland is ready to share potential German war reparations with Israel, but added he doesn't expect the issue to be resolved quickly.

"We know that we are getting on a road that isn't going to be easy," he told the audience. "We are not expecting quick success." BLOOMBERG

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