Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has released a report, which puts the country’s monetary losses during World War II at $1.32 trillion (6.2 trillion złotys). During a press conference to announce the report’s release, the party’s leader and Poland’s chief policymaker, Jarosław Kaczyński, called on the government to demand reparations from Germany.
Work on the report began in 2017 and involved 30 historians, experts and economists. The $1.32 trillion total surpasses that of the previous $850 billion presented by a PiS party lawmaker a few years ago. Speaking at the press conference on September 1, 2022, Kaczyński said, “We not only prepared the report but we have also taken the decision as to the further steps. We will turn to Germany to open negotiations on the reparations.”
He added that “the sum that was presented was adopted using the most limited, conservative method, it would be possible to increase it.” This was echoed by lawmaker Arkadiusz Mularczyk, the head of the report’s team, who said it was impossible to place a financial value on the millions of Polish lives lost, the damage to infrastructure and the loss of culture experienced as a direct result of the German occupation of the country.
A number of top Polish leaders were present at the ceremonial release of the report at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who tweeted, “It is not only a settlement with the past – it is primarily a bill for the future taken away from the Polish nation.”
Germany invaded Poland in 1939, signalling the start of the Second World War. During the years-long occupation, it’s estimated some six million citizens, including three million Polish Jews, lost their lives, with 200,000 alone dying during the two-month Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
Some of those who were killed during this time were also victims of the Soviet Red Army, which invaded Poland from the East just a few weeks after the German invasion began and annexed hundreds of thousands of kilometers of territory.
During a remembrance event near Gdańsk, Polish President Andrzej Duda said the conflict was “one of the most terrible tragedies in our history. Not only because it took our freedom, not only because it took our state from us, but also because this war meant millions of victims among Poland’s citizens and irreparable losses to our homeland and our nation.”
Germany, which is one of Poland’s main trading partners in Europe, argues that compensation was paid in full to Eastern Bloc countries and that all financial claims related to WWII have been settled. It added that the land Poland lost as a result of the German occupation was replaced by some of Germany’s pre-war lands when the country’s borders were redrawn.
Poland relinquished all claims to war reparations in 1953, when it was under the control of the Soviet Union. At the time, the USSR wanted to free East Germany from any liabilities associated with the conflict. The PiS has since argued that the agreement should be null and void, as the Polish government was unable to negotiate fair compensation.
Speaking about the report to the Associated Press, the German Foreign Office rejected the idea that the government would pay what the PiS was asking for, saying, “The German government’s position is unchanged: the reparations question is closed.”
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Recent surveys have shown that the Polish public is divided on the issue of reparations. Donald Tusk, the leader of the Civic Platform party, spoke out about the report’s release, saying the PiS’ claims are “not about reparations,” but rather “an internal political campaign to rebuild support for the ruling party.”
Parliamentary elections are set to be held in the country in mid-to-late 2023.