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Greece insists on reparations from Germany but not from Bulgaria

29 May 2015 / 19:05:49  GRReporter
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During World War II, Greece was occupied by Nazi Germany and its allies Italy and Bulgaria. Throughout the period, including shortly before the capitulation, massacres against the civilian population were committed in all three zones of occupation.

Shortly after the start of the economic crisis and almost 70 years after the end of the war, the issue of war crimes reparations is often a part of the Greek public debate. A cross-party commission has been formed in parliament to require the payment of the German obligations to Greece that include compensation payable to the relatives of killed civilians, reparations for the infrastructure that was destroyed during the war, payment of the forced "occupational" loan that the German occupiers compelled Greece to take to cover their needs and the return of stolen archaeological and cultural treasures.

An interesting fact is that Athens has such claims only to Germany but not to its allies, Bulgaria and Italy. To GRReporter's question why this is so, SYRIZA MP and member of the cross-party parliamentary commission Yiannis Statas replied as follows:

"Bulgaria and Italy paid their dues. But the commission has examined all documents and evidence from that time, including those of the massacre in Doxato near Drama, which was committed by the Bulgarian army. Every day we collect more and more data but do not yet know what they will show."

Lawyer Christina Stamouli supported his words, stating, "Agreements for the payment of reparations were concluded with Bulgaria and Italy that implemented them. The amounts they paid may seem small compared to today's knowledge of the developments that took place at that time but this is another matter. However, no agreement on this issue was concluded with Germany. Its relations with Greece regarding this issue are an extremely bad example."


The issue of reparations was discussed at a press conference that followed the film-show of "A Song for Argyris". It describes the life of currently 75-year-old Argyris Sfountouris and his efforts for Germany to recognize the commitment of the massacre in Distomo in 1944, his parents and 30 relatives being among the 218 victims.

Argyris and his three sisters survived but one of them was not able to recover from the shock. He spent the next couple of years in orphanages in Athens together with other children, victims of the war.

A Red Cross commission arrived in the orphanage one day to select several children and take them to the children's village of Pestalochi in the Trogen region of Switzerland. There Argyris grew up with children from other countries, away from his relatives and post-war Greece that was in a difficult condition.

As a high school student, he wrote a letter to Albert Einstein that impressed the great physicist so much that he replied to Argyris. His words were an incentive for the teenager who would later defend his doctoral dissertation in mathematics and astrophysics at the Polytechnic in Zurich.
Later he became a physics teacher at Swiss schools, translated Greek authors into German and simultaneously made frequent trips to Asia and Africa to help children who had experienced tragedies like him.

In the period 1967-1974, when Greece was paralyzed by the regime of the military junta, Argyris Sfountouris opposed the dictatorship and consequently drew the attention of the government. The Greek Consulate refused to renew his international passport and as a result, he could not travel for several years.

Over the years, his trips to Greece and his native Distomo became more frequent as were his efforts to acquaint the German public with the crimes committed by the Nazis. The claim by Sfountouris and his three sisters was one of the first efforts towards forcing Germany to pay war reparations to the village.

One interesting fact of Argyris’ life that was full of unexpected twists is associated with the photograph on the film poster. "I saw it in 1993 for the first time, in the book by British historian Mark Mazower 'Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation 1941-1944'". I did not know I was the boy in the photograph. When I showed it to my aunt to ask who this boy from Distomo is she was surprised that I had not recognized my grandmother, aunt and myself who were in it. Then I looked for the photo at the Benaki Museum that houses the archives of photographer Voula Papaioannou, who had taken it. It was taken several months after the massacre and I am four and a half to five years old in it."

The film "A Song for Argyris" will be shown in cinemas across Greece on 11 June, a day after the 71st anniversary of the tragic events in Distomo.

Tags: PoliticsCinemaGerman war reparationsCommissionStrory of Argyris Sfountouris A Song for ArgyrisMassacre in Distomo
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