BERLIN — In the Greek resort town of Nafplio, German tourists Ludwig Zaccaro and Nina Lange shocked the local mayor last week by walking into City Hall with a reparations check. The couple had seen a figure in the news claiming Germany owed Greece more than $74 billion for Nazi crimes during World War II — a figure they boiled down to $936 per German citizen.
“We thought, Germany should start by paying its own debts before demanding the Greeks pay theirs,” said Lange, a 55-year-old social worker.
Consider it a down payment. At odds with its creditors — led by Germany — and running out of cash, Greece is reaching a do-or-die moment in its fight to renegotiate the terms of its bailout and avoid a catastrophic exit from the euro. But even as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lands here Monday for critical talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Athens is seeking to turn the tables on its single biggest paymaster. Who, the Greeks are asking, truly owes whom?
In recent weeks, the new government in Athens led by radical nationalists has resuscitated old claims against Germany for 20th-century atrocities committed in Greece by the Nazis — damages a Greek auditing office estimated could run as high as $340 billion, coincidentally enough to wipe out Greek debt.
The demand for reparations has now become part of a bitter clash of cultures between Greece and Germany that has poisoned financial talks and raised fears of a stalemate with potentially dire consequences.