WARSAW, Poland — A Polish official said Friday that Germany could owe his country $850 billion for the damage it inflicted during World War II.
Arkadiusz Mularczyk is leading a team in the parliament that is assessing potential reparations to Poland. Germany killed 6 million Polish citizens and caused great material losses during its nearly six-year occupation of Poland.
“We are talking about very large, but justified amounts of compensation for war crimes, for destroyed cities, villages and the lost demographic potential of our country,” Mularczyk said on Polsat News, a private broadcaster.
Last year, Poland’s ruling conservative nationalist Law and Justice party said the nation deserves compensation for its losses and set up a team of lawmakers under Mularczyk’s leadership to estimate how much is due.
To date, Poland has not made an official demand. Germany has repeatedly said there is no legal basis for Poland’s reparation claims because the matter was settled in a 1953 agreement.
Poland’s current authorities have argued the 1953 decision is invalid because it was dictated by Moscow when Poland was a satellite of the Soviet Union.
Since then, Germany has paid some compensation to individual Poles who were forced laborers or victims of German pseudo-medical experiments during the Nazis’ wartime occupation.
Poland has also embroiled itself in a bitter dispute with Israel over a law that went into effect on Thursday, which calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.
Israel and the US have warned the law will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust.
Senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem on Thursday in a bid to resolve differences over the controversial Holocaust law, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”
Deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki led the visiting Polish delegation, while Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem headed Israel’s team.
“I look forward to an open candid and friendly dialogue between Israel and Poland as expected between friends and allies,” Rotem told journalists before the start of the meeting. “We must make sure that historical truths are preserved and that there is no restriction on freedom of research and speech.”
Cichocki said, “We are committed to join our efforts to promote truth about the Holocaust and the Polish-Jewish centuries-old relationship.”
One key paragraph of the law states: “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”
Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.
The law has also created tensions with Ukraine due to a provision that criminalizes denying the wartime crimes of Ukrainian nationalists, who killed up to about 100,000 Poles in wartime massacres.
Poland’s president signed the law last month but also sent it to the constitutional court for review. Polish officials have said no criminal charges will be brought until the court has made its ruling, expected in several weeks.
But prosecutors are already looking for cases where Poland is defamed over its wartime activities.