Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Poles angered by German claim of wartime damages

REPARATION Warsaw threatened to instigate a counter-claim in response to Germans' attempts to regain property they had lost after World War II


Warsaw will seek compensation for damage the Nazis inflicted on the occupied capital during World War II if Germans forced from prewar homes in western Poland don't give up claims to their former property, the city's mayor said on Wednesday.

Some German groups and individuals have threatened to use Poland's entry into the EU on May 1 to regain property or seek compensation for land they were forced to give up in the aftermath of Germany's defeat in 1945.

"Our action is a reply to what is incredible German nerve," Lech Kaczynski said in an interview with TVN24 television. "That country caused the war, that country inflicted huge damage, that country carried out genocide on an unheard of scale and now it demands compensation."

Relations are generally good between Poland and Germany, which have painstakingly rebuilt ties since the collapse of communism in 1989 ended the division of Europe. Berlin strongly backed Warsaw's successful drive to join the EU.

But relations have grown tense over the property claims and over a recent focus in Germany on wartime suffering of ethnic Germans, which many Poles see as a symbol of fading remorse for Nazi Germany's crimes.

After the Third Reich collapsed in 1945, an estimated 12.5 million Germans lost their ancestral homes in present-day Poland, the Czech Republic and other parts of eastern Europe.

While the legal basis for German and Polish claims is unclear, Kaczynski insists that Poland's membership in the EU has made it eligible to claim war damages from Germany.

Kaczynski asked a group of experts last year to assess the wartime devastation of Warsaw. The work could take up to two years, Kaczynski said.

Studies done in the late 1940s put the damage at about US$30 billion, but the mayor said he expects the figure to be much higher.

"That sum will definitely be bigger," Kaczynski said, speaking a day ahead of a visit to Poland by German President Horst Koehler. "No one can say that it's possible to rebuild a city of 2 million for US$30 billion."

Much of Warsaw was flattened when the Nazis liquidated the Warsaw Ghetto and brutally crushed uprisings in 1943 and 1944. The city is still dotted with war-damaged buildings that Poles could not afford to repair.

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