Greek claims against Germany
by Marilyn Henry - received
from L. Saltiel - 17.7.00
SALONIKA (July 11) - Although the
German Parliament last week passed the bill to establish a DM 10 billion
fund for slave and forced labor and other war-time damages, the end is
not yet in sight for claims against Berlin for Nazi-era reparations.
In Athens, three
German cultural properties were due to be confiscated, under a court order,
to settle claims for the German army's 1944 massacre of 218 villagers,
Greek newspapers reported.
That court action
may help the Jewish community of Salonika recoup 1.9 billion drachmas for
a "ransom" it paid the Nazis in 1942, in a futile effort to save its men
from deportation to work as forced laborers, according to a community official.
year, Greece's Supreme Court upheld an award of some 9.5 billion drachmas
to relatives of 218 villagers massacred by Nazi troops at Distomo, near
Delphi, on June 10, 1944, four months before the Germans left Athens.
Germany has refused
to pay, arguing that Greek reparations claims were settled by a 1960 treaty.
It also used a legal argument contending that Greek courts have no jurisdiction
in the case. That legal argument had also been used in the US to quash
class-action lawsuits seeking compensation from German industry for slave
and forced labor.
As a condition
of the DM 10b. fund, the US is expected to provide German industry with
"legal peace" from lawsuits in American federal courts.
In Greece, the
Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling on both the question of their
jurisdiction and the substance of the villagers' relatives claims. According
to the Greek press, the courts found that "in the case of Distomo, there
was no armed clash but an act of vengeance...the murder of non-combatants
and crimes against their persons and property."
That put the
Greek government in the awkward position of balancing its relations with
Berlin against enforcing an order of its highest court. The confiscation
cannot proceed without authorization from the Justice Ministry.
Salonika Jewish community believes that the Distomo ruling could help it
recover its claim for the unusual war-time ransom. The community agreed
in 1942 to pay German authorities about 2.5 billion drachmas, in installments,
to free Jewish men from forced labor for the Mueller and Todt companies.
Some 1.9b. drachmas were paid, but the deportation went ahead anyway. The
last two installments were not paid because on the due dates no one was
left in the village - all 50,000 Salonika Jews had been deported to Auschwitz.
A Greek court
rejected the community's initial claim, saying it did not have jurisdiction.
That case is now being appealed.
The Distomo case
eliminates the question of jurisdiction, said Albert Hagouel, secretary
of the Salonika Jewish community, adding, "Now, in our case, the court
can rule on the essence of the claims." The Salonika Jewish community believes
its claim is distinct from those covered by the German fund. "The community
as a legal entity is making a claim against the German state," Hagouel
said Sunday. "It was the community that made the claim, not individuals."
Posted in Jerusalem Post Inernet edition - Tuesday
July 18, 2000