Why is the issue of reparations for Poland being raised now?

Why is the issue of reparations for Poland being raised now?


The issue of reparations due from Germany to Poland still remains an open issue – even almost 80 years after the end of the Second World War. Due to communist rule, the turbulence of Poland’s democratic transformation, and the decades since, other issues were more pressing. However, the conversation about Second World War reparations was constantly in the background.

The publishing of the War Report - the first “full” war report since to document and calculate the amount of reparations owed to Poland since 1947 - is the first step in calling for the German state to pay reparations.


So why is now the right time to re-open the discussion concerning reparations?


The issue of reparations has not been resolved yet

Despite the three common arguments against Poland’s claim to reparations, i.e. the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences, the “1953 waiver”, and the Two Plus Four Treaty, Poland has not renounced its claims for reparations.

Further, Germany has not signed a peace treaty or any other bilateral agreement to compensate Poland for the damage and suffering that the German state inflicted on Poland through its occupation during the Second World War.

In the context of Poland proportionately suffering the greatest human and material losses of all the European countries in relation to the total eligible population and national wealth, the Polish state is justified in opening a debate to finally resolve the issue of reparations.

This issue is discussed in more detail in this post, Wasn’t the issue of reparations for Poland closed?


The effects of the Second World War affect Poland today

The Second World War may have taken place in the past; however, the effects of the Second World War are still felt today.

If the Second World War did not take place, Poland would have had a larger population, would be economically more advanced, and would have kept its cultural heritage and arts, amongst many other things.

Poland is claiming reparations because the Second World War – started by Germany – robbed Poland of these future opportunities and valuable cultural assets.

This issue is discussed in more detail in this post, Why is Poland asking for reparations for the Second World War?


There is no statute of limitations for war crimes

International law does not recognise the statute of limitations for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Also, international law does not recognise the statute of limitations for the right to compensation for war crimes.

It is unquestionable that the German state started the Second World War and committed genocide and harmed Polish citizens, often leaving permanent or long-lasting damage. Therefore, the German state remains responsible for the effects of the harm and damage caused.

The claim for reparations aims to redress the harm resulting from these war crimes.


There is no legal path for individuals

There is no legal path available for Polish victims of the Second World War to seek compensation from the German state. Until now, Germany has hidden behind the veil of state immunity and does not recognise claims from individuals.

Given the current stage of development and awareness of human rights protection, this is an unprecedented situation.

The fact that Polish victims have no right to claim damages for loss of health despite representatives of other nationalities receiving forms of compensation is a clear example of discrimination.

Poland’s claim for reparations, as a harmed state, is made in full acknowledgement that individuals unfairly do not have a legal path open to them.


Some countries, groups and organisations have received compensation

After the Second World War, Germany acknowledged that it has caused harm and consequently, paid compensation. For example:

  • in 1952, Israel received reparations for the Holocaust,
  • in 1960, Germany paid compensation to Greece under a bilateral agreement,
  • in the early 90s, a small group of people in Poland received token amounts of compensation, and
  • money was paid to the World Jewish Congress.

Germany should not be allowed to cherry-pick to whom it pays compensation. Also, the compensation paid should accurately reflect the amount of harm caused.


A period of stability in Poland’s contemporary history allows Poland to make a claim

After the war, because of the Potsdam Agreement, the USSR assumed responsibility for paying Poland reparations and stopped Poland from claiming reparations from the German states.

After Poland’s transformation in 1991, for the following decades, Poland lived through a turbulent time politically, economically, and socially in an attempt to embrace democracy. Political, industrial, and academic efforts, as well as economic resources, were allocated to priorities at the time, i.e. transforming a neglected, communist state into a leading, democratic EU state and financial powerhouse in CEE.

Thus, it is only recently that stability has allowed Poland to turn its attention and efforts to issues that previously were not seen as a priority.

Now, as a leader in CEE, Poland now can open debate to right previous wrongs and claim reparations for the lasting damage caused by German occupation during the Second World War.


Scientific knowledge and practice allow for an accurate assessment of reparations

The last “full” war report was drafted shortly after the Second World War. With almost 80 years passing since then, the modelling needed to conservatively assess the amount of reparations had to be carefully developed. Indeed, in drafting the 2022 War Report, the experts involved developed modelling methods that led to results:

  • which have not been disputed, and;
  • which have attracted the attention of other countries who are also thinking about opening discussions about reparations.

Polish academia and science are at the cutting edge. We can now conservatively and accurately identify the amount of reparations due from Germany. As such, now is the time to formally request that Germany pays the reparations due to Poland.


To open inter-government and public debate

The War Report is a starting point for substantial bilateral talks. These talks should lead to an appropriate response by the German government to serve both justice and historical truth. The War Report also forms a basis for objective public debate, including in the international media, on Germany’s failure to settle accounts with Poland and the Polish people for the consequences of the Second World War.

The issue of reparations for the Second World War is conveniently dismissed as being “resolved”. It is not. Now is the time to openly debate and finally resolve the issue of reparations due to Poland.


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