Why Poland is demanding World War II reparations from Germany

Key Points
  • Poland is looking into whether it can claim compensation from Germany for the losses suffered during the Second World War.
  • The assessment comes as Poland commemorates the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, which left 200,000 Poles dead.
  • Germany claims that has and continues to pay out appropriate reparations.
The celebration of the 71st anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, Powazki Military Cemetery, Aug. 1, 2015.
Adam Guz | Getty Images Poland | Getty Images

Poland is looking into whether it can demand reparations from Germany for losses suffered during the Second World War.

The research office of the Polish parliament is currently preparing an analysis of whether the country can legally make a claim, Arkadiusz Mularczyk, an MP in the ruling Law and Justice party, said Tuesday.

The office expects to announce whether or not Poland can drive ahead with its claim by August 11.

Why is Poland seeking compensation now?

The demands come during the anniversary week of the start of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. The operation by the Polish resistance was intended to liberate Warsaw from German occupation, but instead resulted in the deaths of up to 200,000 Poles and the near destruction of Warsaw as Nazi forces captured the capital.

During a speech to commemorate the victims on Monday, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said the Germans should "pay back the terrible debt they owe to the Polish people."

The reparation analysis, which could see Poland receive cash compensation from Germany for its losses, was launched the following day, though the head of the Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said last week the "Polish government is preparing itself for a historical counteroffensive."

"We are talking here about huge sums, and also about the fact that Germany for many years refused to take responsibility for World War II," Kaczynski told a local radio station at the time.

The claims have found support among Polish people. During a Legia Warsaw football match Tuesday, fans unveiled a flag denouncing the deaths of tens of thousands of children


Does Poland have a claim?

Though the physical and psychological losses endured by Poland during World War II are incontestable, its continued right to seek compensation is a matter of deep debate.

Fighters of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa), the Polish resistance movement, with a group of captured Germans who surrendered at PAST (a telephone agency) during the Warsaw Uprising, Poland, 20th August 1944.
Galerie Bilderwelt | Getty Image

In the early-1950s, Poland's former communist government said it would waive its right to compensation. However, many argue that the agreement was unlawful since the government at the time was under pressure from the Soviet Union, and following the reunification of Germany in the 1990s the matter has faced new scrutiny.

It is estimated that damages incurred by Poland during WWII total $640 billion in 2004 exchange values. As of 2012, Germany had paid a total of $89 billion in compensation to victims of the war, in Poland and beyond, according to The New York Times. German officials continue to meet regularly to revise and expand the guidelines for compensation.

What is Germany saying?

The German government has claimed that its duty to compensate Poland was denounced in the 1950s but insists that it continues to stand by its moral and financial duties to the victims of the war.

"Of course Germany stands by its responsibility in World War II, politically, morally and financially," Ulrike Demmer, a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told reporters in Berlin.

"It has made significant reparations for general war damage, including to Poland, and is still paying significant compensation for Nazi wrongdoing."

Another hurdle in EU relations

The demands come at a difficult time for Poland as the EU Commission has launched proceedings against the country. The EU claims that Poland is infringing EU rules on the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature.

Germany is often seen as the defacto head of the EU and its one of Poland's trade partners and NATO allies.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the estimated damages incurred by Poland and what repatriations have already been paid by Germany.