Poland has officially announced that the Third Reich inflicted an estimated $1.3 trillion worth of losses as a result of combat and occupation during the Second World War. That includes enormous property damage and, most importantly, about 6 million citizens killed, over half of them Jews.
Berlin denies the validity of the financial claim. A legal and moral struggle looms large between the neighboring countries and NATO allies.
Mutual relations are already in the doldrums on account of Berlin’s decades long, disastrous policy of cozying up to Moscow. In particular, Germany’s choosing Russia over other gas and oil suppliers, especially the United States, has adversely impacted the European Union’s energy security and sent untold billions of dollars to President Vladimir Putin.
Poland is particularly bitter about that for two main reasons. First, it long warned Western Europeans about the danger of becoming beholden to Russia.
Second, the Poles also championed a viable alternative: energy security based upon deliveries from America via gas and oil hubs on the Polish Baltic Sea coast. The product would then be distributed all over the Old Continent weaning it off its dependency on the Russian Federation.
For almost 20 years Germany enabled Russia to dominate the energy market, which included the construction of the now-dormant Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But now the Russian deliveries have come to a grinding halt because of the Kremlin’s invasion on Ukraine.
The West has imposed sanctions to punish Moscow, including severely limiting energy purchases. From its side, Moscow has turned off the spigot in retaliation for Western support of Kiyv.
Poland and other former Soviet satellites and captive nations are further disappointed, if not enraged, at lackluster support of Germany for Ukraine.
On both accounts, energy policy and Ukrainian assistance, the German stance challenges American foreign policy. Before the invasion of Ukraine in February, the Biden administration attempted to reset the Obama-era reset with Russia, returning to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failed policies of making nice with the Kremlin. It even attempted to countenance Nord Stream 2 against our own American interests.
Since the invasion, however, Washington has become the staunchest supporter of Ukraine’s defense effort and a rigid enforcer of sanctions against Russia. It may even relent on American LNG, which is 10 times cheaper than what Europe currently pays.
The White House publicly admonishes for Germany to do more (or anything, really) for Ukraine. Privately, it vents its frustration with Berlin’s sabotage of Western solidarity vis-à-vis besieged Kiyv.
And now on top of that came the Polish announcement of the $1.3 trillion reparation bill.
Given America’s attitude to Berlin at the moment, the bill may have come at a right time, whether Warsaw intended it so or not. It is doubtful, however, it has coordinated the move with Washington.
The German government meanwhile denies validity of the claim for legal reasons. According to the German Foreign Ministry, “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.”
However, Professor Bogdan Musiał, a Polish-German scholar who until recently headed Warsaw’s Jan Karski Institute for War Losses, explains that Berlin is sorely mistaken. Other German scholars agree. Reparations are due. International law supports this claim.
First, Poland was at that time occupied by the Soviets and, thus, was not a sovereign country empowered to make any concessions to anyone.
Second, Moscow ordered Warsaw to make an appropriate declaration on giving up its claims, but it never specified whether this concession concerned East Germany or both Germanies.
Third, ultimately, the Poles signed no specific legally binding agreement to desist with their claims for reparations. Experts insist that a document like this simply does not exist.
Thus, Poland retains a strong legal claim to obtain financial indemnity for its losses.
The Polish government pledges to team up with Israel to collect on the claim. The opposition Civic Platform in Poland, meanwhile, dismisses it all as just a publicity stunt to attracts votes.
Yet, the elections are not until autumn next year, so why did not the ruling of Law and Justice wait until then?
Predictably, many view the opposition as stooges of Germany and the EU.
No matter what Berlin says, the restitution issue is not dead. And wait until Poland tallies the losses inflicted on her by the Soviet Union. There will be a screeching howl from the Kremlin.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.\
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