Germany recognizes its historical responsibility for crimes committed by the Nazis in Greece, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday on her first visit to Athens since 2014.
"We recognize our historical responsibility. We know how much suffering we, as Germany in the time of Nazism, have brought to Greece," she said. "That is why it's a lesson for us to do everything to have good relations with Greece, and to lend each other support for the prosperity of both countries."
World War Two reparations resurfaced as an emotional issue during Greece's 2010-18 period of bailouts when austerity-hit Greeks, evoking past injustices, blamed their biggest creditor Germany for painful cuts associated with three international bailouts. Germany has apologized for Nazi-era crimes during the war but has said it is not willing to discuss reparations. It has denied owing anything to Greece for World War II since it paid Athens 115 million deutschmarks in 1960. Hitler's forces occupied Greece in 1941-1944 and extracted a so-called "occupation loan" used to help finance its campaign in North Africa. Runaway inflation followed, and tens of thousands of people starved to death. Greece was forced to hand over 476 million reichsmarks, which Greek officials have estimated to be valued at between 6 billion and 10 billion euros ($6.92 billion to $11.53 billion).
In talks with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras after her arrival on Thursday, Merkel lauded the sacrifices Greeks made during the country's economic crisis of 2010-2014. During her first visit to Greece in 2014, Merkel faced major protests and sought to ease tensions with Athens where Berlin was often blamed for biting austerity and bailouts. Also in 2014, ex-president Joachim Gauck sought public forgiveness in the name of Germany from relatives of those murdered by the Nazis in the mountains of northern Greece.