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Why Poland Wants Germany to Pay Billions for World War II

March 7, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Prisoners of Majdanek concentration camp, as they have been found by the allied troops, 1944. (Credit: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images)

If you’d visited Warsaw in 1945, you might not have recognized it as a city at all. Destroyed by the Nazis in retribution for a 1944 uprising, the city was pocked by craters and reduced to miles and miles of rubble. It wasn’t just the capital: Much of Poland was rubble by the end of the war.

In the decades since, Poland has rebuilt and regrown. But the memory of its six-year Nazi occupation still stings—and for years, a spat over whether Germany owes reparations for its actions toward Poland during World War II has threatened diplomatic relations between the two countries. In March 2018 the issue boiled over again when Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a Polish lawmaker, asserted that Germany owed reparations that could be worth as much as $850 billion.

The claim rests on the breadth of destruction and suffering the country withstood between its invasion by Nazis in 1939 and the conclusion of the war, in 1945. Eighteen percent of Poland’s population perished during World War II: The Nazis murdered 3 million Polish Jews and killed another 3 million Poles, including civilians and military members. In addition, cultural objects were looted by the Nazis, industrial sites were razed, and cities were destroyed.

Prisoners of Majdanek concentration camp, as they have been found by the allied troops, 1944. (Credit: Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images)

But Poland itself thinks it may have a claim for additional compensation from Germany for World War II. Lately, some right-wing politicians have contended that the land and resources seized as reparations by the USSR, which assisted Poland after the war, and restitution paid by reunified Germany to Polish victims of the Nazis, was hardly sufficient for the country’s wartime suffering.

“There’s a sense of victimhood,” says Anna Grzymala-Busse, a professor at Stanford who studies the country’s post-Communist policies and political parties. She says right-wing politicians like Mularczyk use Poland’s victimization during World War II as a way to appeal to their political base. By arguing that Poland’s sovereignty can be reclaimed through reparations, she says, the country’s Law and Justice party can curry favor among Poles who long for their country to be taken more seriously on the European stage.

As of yet, Poland hasn’t made an official demand for the reparations from its most important trading …read more


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