Greeks press Nazi-era claims

Historical grievances and modern resentments feed push for reparations

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEOctober 6, 2013 

Giannis Syngelakis, whose father was among those killed by German soldiers in 1943, with photographs of local men killed by the Nazis. “Back then, they destroyed us with guns,” Syngelakis said. “Today, they do it financially.” 

ANGELOS TZORTZINIS — The New York Times

AMIRAS, Greece — As they moved through the isolated villages in this region in 1943, systematically killing men in a reprisal for an attack on a small outpost, German soldiers dragged Giannis Syngelakis’ father from his home here and shot him in the head. Within two days, more than 400 men were dead.

Syngelakis, who was 7 then, still wants payback. And in pursuing a demand for reparations from Germany, he reflects a growing movement here, fueled in part by deep resentment among his countrymen over Germany’s current power to dictate budget austerity to the fiscally crippled Greek government.

It is not just aging victims of the Nazi occupation who are demanding a full accounting. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ government has compiled an 80-page report on reparations and a huge, never-repaid loan the nation was forced to make under Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1945.

Samaras has sent the report to Greece’s Legal Council of State, the agency that would build a legal case or handle settlement negotiations. But some political analysts are doubtful that Athens will be willing to take on the Germans, who have provided more to the country’s bailout package than any other European nation.

Others, however, believe that the claims — particularly over the forced loan — could be an important bargaining chip in the months ahead as Greece and its creditors are expected to discuss ways to ease its enormous debt burden.

So far, the Germans have given little indication that they are so inclined. During his latest visit to Athens in July, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, said that Greece had waived its rights on the issue long ago.

Estimates of how much money is at stake vary wildly. The government report does not cite a total. The figure most often discussed is $220 billion, an estimate for infrastructure damage alone put forward by Manolis Glezos, a member of Parliament. That amount equals about half the country’s debt.

Asked about the 80-page report, officials of the Greek Foreign Ministry said that Greece had no intention of mingling war claims with the current financial situation. But, they said, its reparations claims are still valid.

For those who survived the Amiras massacre, a crushing poverty set in. Syngelakis said his mother had scrounged for edible weeds to feed her children. He did not have shoes until he was a teenager.

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