Did the US receive reparations payments for the First World War?

German reparations: blood money and reparations

May 1945: The German Nazi regime unconditionally surrenders. US, Soviet and British troops occupy Germany. Millions of people are homeless, refugees are moving from east to west. The Allies begin to reorganize Germany politically and geographically. At the Potsdam Conference, which took place from July 17 to August 2, 1945 in the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, they discussed how to proceed. The USA enforces the principle of the withdrawal of reparations on a zone basis: According to this, every occupying power should cover its reparation claims from its own zone. The amount of the German payments is not specified.

In the Soviet-occupied zone, the large landowners are expropriated in a land and industrial reform and all larger industrial companies are nationalized. The dismantling of industrial facilities is much more intensive in the east than in the western zones. By 1953, the GDR had lost around 30 percent of its industrial capacities. "That was due to the fact that the Germans had caused enormous damage in the Soviet Union and that extensive compensation was required there," says Manfred Görtemaker, Professor of Modern History at the University of Potsdam.

Extensive waiver of reparation payments

The Marshall Plan: Reconstruction with American Aid

The Western powers, on the other hand, need the Federal Republic as an ally in the Cold War. Economically and politically Germany should become a kind of bulwark against communism. Because after the end of the Potsdam Conference one thing becomes clear above all: the alliance of the victorious powers quickly turned into bitter confrontation between East and West.

In the Paris Reparations Agreement of 1946, the victorious western powers agreed on how they would distribute reparations among themselves. In addition, German reparation obligations were laid down to compensate refugees and victims of National Socialist persecution. However, the contract does not specify the total amount of the reparations. "The USA had the experience of the reparations problem after the First World War in mind," said historian Görtemaker. At that time, the German economy had not gotten back on its feet for a long period of time - in the end, Hitler's rise had stood. "That is why the Americans and, to a limited extent, the British were of the opinion that reparations would have to be largely foregone in order to enable the Germans to regain economic growth."

In order to facilitate this economic rise, US Secretary of State George C. Marshall commissioned in 1947 to work out a plan for the revitalization of Europe. By 1952, the US is providing Western European countries with $ 12.4 billion. A good ten percent of them go to West Germany.

Reparation payments to Israel

Michail Gorbatschow and Helmut Kohl sign the "two plus four contract"

With the London Debt Agreement of 1953, the Federal Republic undertook to repay debts that did not relate to the consequences or damage of the Second World War, but to liabilities from the pre- and post-war period. The Federal Republic of Germany succeeds in reducing its debts from the original 29 to 14.5 billion Deutschmarks. The German delegation also succeeded in getting the former opponents of the war to recognize German demands on foreign countries. This ensures that loans can flow into the up-and-coming Federal Republic. This promotes the economic upturn, especially since lenders are also opening their markets to German goods. All possible claims from wartime will be postponed to a later peace treaty.

Just a few days after the London debt agreement, the German Bundestag passed a reparation agreement with Israel. The Jewish community receives deliveries of goods worth three billion D-Marks from the Federal Republic - the equivalent of around 1.5 billion euros. The Jewish Claims Conference receives 450 million Deutschmarks. In addition, Germany will pay around 83 billion D-Marks to former forced laborers and concentration camp inmates by the year 2000.

With the London debt agreement and the reparation agreement with Israel, Chancellor Adenauer had one political goal in mind: to promote Germany's integration into the West and to present the country as a reliable debtor to other countries.

"Instead of a peace treaty"

Greece is demanding compensation for the mischief that the Nazis wrought.

After the end of the Second World War, there was initially no peace treaty in which reparations could be regulated. Germany is divided and under Allied administration. When German reunification became a reality in 1989, the then Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl tried to prevent the question of reparations from being raised. Kohl fears reparation claims from all 62 states that were once at war with Germany. In the agreement called the "Two-Plus-Four Treaty", which establishes the unity and sovereignty of Germany, he prevails: reparations are not mentioned in it. In order not to have to comply with possible reparation demands of individual states, the language rule "Instead of a peace treaty" is used.

The Russian demands for reparations would far exceed the Greek ones

The issue seemed to have been buried until the Greek government brought the question of reparations back into play in 2015: Germany owed the Greeks almost 280 billion euros, according to Greek Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas. The federal government rejects the demands to this day. "If Greece is asking for 300 billion, what could Russia be asking for? 100 trillion?" asks the Freiburg historian Ulrich Herbert. Because the Soviet Union was much more affected by the looting and crimes of the Nazi state. Formal payments to Greece would often trigger higher claims from other groups of victims, which would ultimately be unaffordable.