German top court rejects WWII claim

Germany’s highest court yesterday rejected a claim for reparations by the children of a couple who were among 214 residents of a town in central Greece massacred by German troops in 1944. This ends the long legal fight by the families of Distomo’s victims but it leaves open the possibility of a political solution, something which Prime Minister Costas Simitis told Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during a visit to Berlin last November that his government would consider after the court case. The Federal Supreme Court of Justice in Karlsruhe ruled that Germany was not liable to pay compensation because only states, not private citizens, could claim reparations for war crimes. It upheld a ruling by a Bonn court in 1995 and another by a higher court in Cologne in 1997. The court also said that the ruling by a Greek court in Livadia, near Distomo, granting the relatives $24.5 million in compensation «could not be recognized in Germany because it violates the principle of extraterritoriality.» The European Court of Human Rights and the Special Supreme Court in Greece have also turned down the relatives’ demand. The Waffen-SS killed 214 people in Distomo on June 10, 1944, in revenge for a partisan attack. Survivors have said that in a two-hour door-to-door operation, they bayoneted babies in their cribs, tore fetuses from pregnant women and beheaded the village priest. «This massacre is one of the most despicable crimes of the Second World War,» presiding judge Eberhard Rinne told the court, Reuters reported. But he added: «Moral or humanitarian aspects could not play a role because the case could only be considered according to the limited means of the law.» The claim was brought by Argyris Sfoundouris and his three sisters. The court ruled there was no legal basis for individual compensation from the German government, which paid Greece 115 million marks ($68 million today) in the 1960s to compensate victims of the occupation. A ruling in favor of the claimants, who were not in the court, would have set a precedent for thousands of people who survived German atrocities during World War II or are relatives of victims.

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