Poland’s call for war reparations is not a lost cause

No government and no politician has the right to refuse redress for war victims, their children, and grandchildren when they have suffered losses, and there are no lost causes until the cause has been fought, argues Marek Domagalski for news outlet Rzeczpospolita

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Marek Domagalski
A young Polish boy returns to what was his home and squats among the ruins during a pause in the German air raids on Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 1939 in World War II. (AP Photo/Julien Bryan)

Poland’s $1.3 trillion claim for reparations from Germany was criticized by former Polish opposition leader Grzegorz Schetyna. However, there was no reason for him to denigrate the chances of this initiative and the elementary quest for justice of millions of Polish citizens who suffered at the hands of Germany during World War II. A few hours before the presentation of the report assessing the damages suffered by Poland, Schetyna told commercial radio that “the matter of war reparations was closed in 1953, and the ruling Law and Justice is merely playing internal politics with the matter.”

Lawyers see little chance of winning this battle in the courts. However, raising the issue could lead to Germany agreeing to some form of compromise and a settlement. The matter certainly is not closed. Even if legally it was, this would not be honest or just with regard to Poles and Poland. In any case, when it comes to reparations, it is not just the letter of the law which is decisive, and certainly not the decision by the quisling communist government in 1953 to waive Poland’s rights to reparations. 

It is not clear whether this matter can be settled in some form of tribunal or court of arbitration, but the very fact of the claim having been made will mean there is strong pressure on Germany in the court of international public opinion

Grzegorz Schetyna is a very experienced politician and a historian by training. He must know that if opposition politicians signal that they will desist from following up on the claim — when and if they come to power — that makes it harder for Poland’s diplomatic efforts to be successful. A Polish politician should be a spokesman for Polish interests. He should not deprecate the aspiration for justice for millions who have suffered a historic wrong. No government or politician can refuse these people elementary justice and compensation for what they have suffered.

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