Published : 2014-03-07 20:19
Updated : 2014-03-07 20:19
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ German President Joachim Gauck is to visit a village in northwestern Greece Friday where German troops massacred dozens of villagers during World War II, as part of a three-day visit to the country combining talks with politicians with efforts to bring closure to the wounds from the German wartime occupation of Greece.
Anti-German sentiment has increased in Greece in recent years, as Germany has been one of the most ardent proponents of austerity measures imposed in return for billions of euros in rescue loans. Germany is the largest single contributor to Greece's bailout.
Gauck is to accompany Greek President Karolos Papoulias in a wreath-laying ceremony in the village of Ligiades, where Nazi troops executed villagers in 1943 in reprisal for a partisan attack. Later they are to head to nearby Ioannina, the hometown of Papoulias, who was a wartime resistance fighter as a teenager, to meet with the local Jewish community.
In a speech in honor of Gauck Thursday night, Papoulias said he could not understand the German government's refusal to discuss Greek claims to reparations for the brutal 1941-44 German occupation and restitution for a forced wartime loan to Germany. Germany insists the issue was laid to rest in the 1960s with a reparations repayment which it considers to have settled all claims.
An official assessment of what sum Greece could demand is pending. But pro-reparations activists quote the sum of 162 billion euros ($223 billion), about half the financially distressed country's national debt. Papoulias said the issue ``casts a pall'' over the two countries' relations.
Separately, Greece's largest Jewish community, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, said last week it has taken Germany to Europe's top human rights court seeking the return of a massive ransom paid to Nazi Germany to free thousands of Jewish slave laborers. Despite the payment, those who had been press-ganged into construction projects across Greece were sent to Nazi death camps.
About 96 percent of Thessaloniki's 50,000 Jews perished in the camps.