As Greeks And Germans Negotiate Debt, Reparations Issues Resurface
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Greece is facing another deadline next week to seal a deal with its creditors. Chief among them is Germany, which has financed most of the Greek bailout loans. The Greek government says Germany owes money, too - billions of dollars - for Nazi atrocities committed more than 70 years ago. Many in Brussels say the dispute is stoking populism at a critical time for Europe. But it's also forced both countries to consider a painful shared past. Joanna Kakissis has our story.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The village of Distomo is nestled in the foothills of central Greece, near the ancient city of Delphi. Had history been kinder to this village, it might have been known for its majestic Byzantine monastery.
LUKAS PERGANTAS: (Foreign language spoken).
KAKISSIS: Or maybe postcard scenes of grandfathers like Lukas Pergantas tending vineyards. But Pergantas grew up in a village defined by a horrific Nazi massacre. It happened on June 10, 1944.
L. PERGANTAS: (Through interpreter) They stormed in and murdered anyone in front of them. They disemboweled pregnant women. They killed children, even babies.
KAKISSIS: Nazi soldiers killed 218 people that day, including the first husband of Pergantas's mother.
L. PERGANTAS: (Through interpreter) So we were raised with hatred towards Germans. As children, if we didn't finish our milk, we were told that the Germans would come after us, not some big bad wolf.
KAKISSIS: More than 160,000 Greek civilians were killed during World War II.
PASTOR THOMAS KAFFENBERGER: (Foreign language spoken).
KAKISSIS: German pastor Thomas Kaffenberger says he did not learn about this history until recently when he began leading a Lutheran youth group in Nuremberg. Today, many Greeks live here, and they sometimes attend services in the medieval cathedral of Saint Sebald, not far from pastor Kaffenberger's office. He says he heard about Distomo from a Lutheran youth group leader who has visited the village years before by chance.
KAFFENBERGER: (Through interpreter) I was in shock listening to this story. I was ashamed and so sad to hear what German soldiers had done in this village.
KAKISSIS: Kaffenberger went to Distomo in 2002. The villagers welcomed him, but signs of the massacre were everywhere - in the museum, at the square, in the mausoleum holding the bones of the dead.
Did you feel uncomfortable there?
KAFFENBERGER: Yes. I remember one sentence from the mayor. He says we could forgive, but we can't forget.
KAKISSIS: Greeks, including some from Distomo, have sued Germany for war reparations in the past. Germany says the issue was settled in 1961 when it paid the equivalent of about $29 million to Greece. Earlier this month, the Greek government totaled the bill at more than $300 billion.
Back in Distomo, the family of Lukas Pergantas, the grandfather we met earlier, says the announcement's timing is unfortunate. Pergantas's son Vassilis, who's visiting, says that it could be seen as a government ploy to distract Greeks from failed election pledges.
VASSILIS PERGANTAS: (Through interpreter) It needs to be clear that more of these reparations would go to the relatives of the people who died in the massacre. The money won't go into Greek state coffers and help pay our debts and bills.
KAKISSIS: Vassilis often explains this to his friends in Nuremberg, where he now lives with his German wife, Claudia. Vassilis and Claudia met in Distomo in 2005 when she was visiting with that Lutheran youth group from Nuremberg. They have a 9-month-old son, Lukas, named after his Greek grandfather. At first, Claudia worried that her husband's family, and especially his grandmother, would disapprove of a German bride.
CLAUDIA PERGANTAS: Maybe through me she will have again any memories. But I have to say none of them ever said anything bad or behaved like it's my fault or I have something to do with this.
KAKISSIS: Her father-in-law says Greece and Germany are now family, too, part of the European Union, and he hopes this reckoning with the past won't destroy the future. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.