Germany critical of Greek stance in World War II claim

Residents of Greek village of Distomo recently sued Germany for compensation; German FM: We're immune from individual claims.

January 13, 2011 14:00
2 minute read.
Distomo, Greece

distomo greece 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Germany's foreign minister criticized Greece's decision to support a claim for compensation for a World War II Nazi massacre, but said Thursday that Berlin is confident of getting its way in court.

Residents of the Greek village of Distomo have won a battle in Italian courts for compensation from Germany, joining Italian plaintiffs seeking similar damages. Nazi troops killed 214 civilians on June 10, 1944, in Distomo — one of the worst World War II atrocities in occupied Greece.

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Germany argues that it settled reparation cases in postwar agreements and is entitled as a state to immunity from individual claims under international law. It has taken the issue to the International Court of Justice, which last year set a Jan. 14 deadline for Italy and Germany to provide further details of their positions.

Greece said Wednesday it would support the compensation claim, backing Italy's position.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Thursday he has "no understanding" for that decision.

"In Germany, we are aware of our responsibility for our history, and we are aware of the particular suffering of the Greek population in World War II," he said in a statement. "But we stand by our position and are confident that our legal opinion will win through in court."

Westerwelle said he expects Germany's immunity as a state to be respected. "If this basic principle is eroded, the international community as a whole faces legal uncertainty," he added.

Survivors and relatives of the victims in Distomo won a compensation award in Greek courts 10 years ago, but the government refused to approve the sale of German state properties to implement the ruling, arguing that it could harm bilateral relations.

The plaintiffs then successfully took their case to Italy, making a legal claim to a German-owned villa near Lake Como which serves as a cultural center.

Hundreds of thousands of Greek civilians died of famine during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation, and thousands were executed in reprisals for acts of resistance.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said Wednesday that Greece's decision to back Italy's position "honors the memory of those sacrificed for their country."

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