During the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, German soldiers lined my eight-year-old father up against a wall next to a pile of corpses, says the Polish writer Grzegorz Jankowski in Die Welt. After an hour or two of “paralysing fear”, his life was spared, along with that of his mother and brother, and they were sent to a concentration camp instead. This story, and others like it, form the “moral basis” for the Polish government’s recent demand for €1.3trn in Second World War reparations from Germany. But more important than atoning for past crimes is “making sure the nightmare doesn’t come back”.
Throughout history, Germany and Russia have made war or alliances with little respect for the countries between them. The modern German economy was built “on importing cheap gas and raw materials” from Russia. This dependence was not an unlucky “mistake”, as politicians now argue. It was undertaken by Berlin “in full awareness” of the consequences – one of which was a revitalised, aggressive Russia that has ended up invading Ukraine. So if Germany “refuses to sit down at the negotiating table” on war reparations, it will show Poland – and all of central Europe – that it continues to see the region “as a field of pure economic exploitation”. But accepting the premise of reparations, even if the exact figure is haggled over, would signal that Germany is finally prepared to treat us as an equal partner. In this context, a trillion euros or so is a “reasonable price”.