Europe

The war claims dividing Greece and Germany

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Media captionThe Greek government has compiled a document demanding war reparations from Germany

High up in the Peloponnese, above the town of Kalavryta, Giorgos Dimopoulos reads through the names chiselled into a stone monument. At one, he stops. "Dimitrios Dimopoulos. My father." He pauses to catch his breath before continuing through the list of 498 men.

At this spot on 13 December 1943, one of the worst crimes of World War II took place: the massacre of the town's entire male population over the age of 12.

The atrocity was a reprisal for the killing of German soldiers. Almost everything in Kalavryta was burnt down, except for the school, where the women and children were held.

Seventy years on, it is one of the many war crimes for which Greece is seeking compensation from Germany.

Image caption Giorgos Dimopoulos is shown here as a child with his father who died in the massacre

Today, the school building has become a museum, exhibits of pocket watches and identity cards found on the victims stand in glass cases.

Mr Dimopoulos walks me around the outside, pointing out the features: the door behind which they were locked in, the steps where the German soldiers kept watch.

'Germany must pay'

"I remember people screaming, crying, praying inside," says the 83-year-old, his eyes occasionally glazing over. "The sun turned red from the fires.

"Every day, I picture the dismembered body of my father as my mother dragged it down the hill."

Nobody here has received any damages from Berlin. The German president visited Kalavryta in 2000 to pay his respects but stopped short of an official apology so as not to broach the topic of reparations. But Mr Dimopoulos is adamant.

"Germany must pay us for what we suffered," he says. "But even then we wouldn't forgive them. When I hear the word 'German', I think it's the devil."

The Nazis invaded Greece in April 1941. Around 250,000 Greeks died in the occupation, mostly of starvation. And Germany took a forced loan from the Bank of Greece to cover the occupation cost.

Some limited compensation was given to the Greek government when the war ended - mainly in the form of German machinery - but it was far less than Athens demanded. The Nazis began to repay the occupation loan in small instalments, but it ceased in 1945.

The allied powers agreed that reparations should be reconsidered upon German reunification - but when that came in 1990, Berlin argued the issue had passed.

Crippling

Now, the Greek government has compiled an 80-page report on both reparations and the repayment of the loan.

It is classified but based on previous estimations, Athens could be demanding as much as 162bn euros (£137bn; $213bn): 108bn euros for destroyed infrastructure and 54bn for the loan. The state legal council is now deciding whether to pass it to Berlin.

But the problem is clear: Greece's wartime enemy is now its paymaster-general.

Germany has provided the lion's share of the Greek bailout and many predict that after this year's German election, Berlin may approve another debt write-off for crisis-ridden Greece. The price has been crippling austerity measures, which Germany has led.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Athens in October, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets. Some wore Nazi uniforms, screaming of an economic occupation. And so public pressure to pursue the reparations issue is growing. But for the government, it is a delicate choice: whether to bite the hand that feeds and risk damaging a fraught relationship.

Adonis Georgiadis, an MP with the governing New Democracy party, says the issue must be broached.

"We have to give a response to many German politicians who said that Greeks are lazy, Greeks are taking our money," he tells me.

"We must say to them very clearly: you are giving us loans, we will pay them back but remember you had all this money that we never asked you for all these decades."

Strained ties

But for Germany, the topic is closed. The country's Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, angrily dismissed the report, urging Greece to focus instead on its austerity path.

Berlin paid 115m Deutschmarks to Athens in 1960 - then worth around $70m. It was a fraction of the Greek demand, but was made with the agreement that there would be no more claims.

Image caption Photographs of some of those killed are on display in the museum in Kalavryta

Talk to Philipp Missfelder, the foreign affairs spokesman of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, and it is clear that the reparations issue has rankled already strained ties.

"Why did Greece not try to negotiate this question when they entered the eurozone by cheating the European Union and the European Central Bank?" he asks, referring to 2001, when the country joined the euro with massaged deficit figures.

"We cannot understand what the Greek government is doing," he adds.

"Germany and especially the German taxpayer is showing solidarity with a difficult situation in Greece and in the end they will send us a bill for something far away in our history and definitely solved."

On the old church in Kalavryta, the clock is stopped at 34 minutes past two, the time when the building was set alight on that fateful day. Seventy years on, Greece and Germany are European allies. But the reparations issue still stands between them and for many here the memories of a tragic past are not yet put to rest.

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