Germany’s Unpaid Debt to Greece: Economist Albrecht Ritschl on WWII Reparations That Never Were
The one who did say something, and it was quite revealing, was former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who at the time of the negotiations once walked out to a press conference and when he was asked about these issues, he said: “look, we claim that we cannot pay reparations, because if we open this Pandora’s box, then given the viciousness and brutality of Nazi warfare, the genocides - there were several genocides that the Nazis carried out - given these absolutely horrific facts and the unbelievable scale of these horrific crimes, any attempt to quantify this and translate it into claims against Germany will either come up with ridiculously low compensation or it is basically going to eat up all of Germany’s national wealth.” And this has consistently been Germany’s standpoint ever since: that the damage done by Nazi Germany, not just in terms of morality and human suffering, but simply in terms of creating material and financial damage, is so huge that it will simply supersede Germany’s capacity to pay.
And as an economist, I have to say I’m afraid that this is not entirely far-fetched; there is something to it. So what Helmut Kohl then said next was that instead of opening this Pandora’s box and going down the route of reparation claims, it will probably be better to continue what he viewed at the time as successful economic cooperation within Europe. Back then, this looked good, and it was in those pre-euro days when everybody was wildly optimistic about the future of economic cooperation in Europe. Now we have become a little bit more realistic about this, but back then it was probably not entirely unrealistic or unreasonable to think of these issues that way.