(Opinion Piece) Sixty two years ago this month, half of German war debts were cancelled to build its economy when European leaders— including Greece, signed the Treaty of London, forgiving Germany of half its debt and effectively paving the way for the German economic miracle of the 1950s.
Yet today, debt is destroying those very creditors that once helped Germany come out of economic devastation. It was forgiveness on top of forgiveness— both for perpetrating a massive war that devastated the entire continent, and modern history’s most egregious offense against humanity— the Holocaust.
Germany emerged from World War II devastated— and still owing debt from the Versailles Treaty that brought an end to the First World War. The harsh reparations imposed on the country following Versailles in 1919 and the austerity and strangle hold on that country’s economy and people was the main factor that led to the rise of the Nazis.
At the time, European leaders with a lot of U.S. encouragement acted to cancel German debt swiftly, taking place in advance of another crisis. Fifty per cent of Germany’s debt was cancelled. The deal covered all debts, including those owed by the private sector and even individuals.
Countries— including Greece— willingly took part in a deal to help create a prosperous Germany— and a stable Western Europe, despite the horrific war crimes that German occupiers had inflicted just a few years before.
Greece— like Germany of the 1930s and 40s— has made mistakes. Four decades of inept and corrupt leadership, a bloated public sector and excessive spending has crippled the nation and brought the Greek people today to their knees. As a result, as the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis told his German counterpart— the third party in the Greek parliament isn’t a “Neo-Nazi party, it’s a Nazi party.”
History is repeating itself.
While Europe and Greece pull and tug, jockey and lobby— a bit of soul searching and a recollection of history would be wise for all involved— especially Germany, the biggest debt transgressor of the 20th century and a country that is prosperous today, because countries like Greece, were wise enough to look back at the mistakes of the past and desire to not repeat them.
Photo from German national archives– when citizens protested against hunger and poverty.