Post originally appeared on The Guardian.
Relations between Germany and Greece have deteriorated as Athens tries to renegotiate its bailout terms and Berlin fears it will ditch previously agreed financial promises.
The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who is due to meet Merkel in Berlin on Monday, has accused Germany of using tricks to avoid paying reparations. One of his ministers raised the prospect of seizing German property to compensate victims of a Nazi massacre.
While Berlin says it has honoured its obligations, including a DM115m payment to Greece in 1960 (around £45m at the time), some mainstream German politicians have gone against government policy and said it was impossible to draw a line under the highly charged issue.
“We should make a financial approach to victims and their families,” said Gesine Schwan, a respected member of the Social Democrat party (SPD), who share power with Merkel’s conservatives.
“It would be good for us Germans to sweep up after ourselves in terms of our history,” she told Spiegel Online. “Victims and descendants have longer memories than perpetrators and descendants,” said Schwan, twice-nominated as a candidate for German president.
Germany, which is keen to avoid setting a precedent by reopening the issue of reparations, argues that the 1990 “Two Plus Four Treaty” signed by then-East Germany and West Germany and the four wartime allies before German reunification drew a line under future claims.
Resentment in Greece runs deep over the German occupation. Nazi forces destroyed scores of Greek villages and killed more than 20,000 civilians between 1941 and 1944. In a chatshow on ARD television on Sunday, the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said the issue was about morals, not money.
“Personally I would be happy if one euro is paid. As long as there was recognition that this moral debt has been settled,” he said, adding that he was speaking as an individual.
A further question hangs over an “occupation loan” forced on the Bank of Greece, which some experts put at €11bn. Schwan said the occupation loan must “of course be repaid“.
The SPD deputy chairman, Ralf Stegner, representing the party’s left, said reparations should not be linked to the euro crisis. “But independently, we must have a discussion about reparations,” Stegner told Spiegel. “After decades, there are still international legal questions to be resolved.“
The co-leader of the Greens, Anton Hofreiter, said the issue could not be brushed aside as it was “neither morally nor legally closed”.