Wasn’t the issue of reparations for Poland closed?

Isn’t the issue of reparations closed?

No. On 18 April 2023, a Council of Ministers' Resolution was published that made it categorically clear that Poland has never renounced its claim for reparations. Poland's claim for reparations remains open and has never been regulated after the war.


What does the Resolution of 18 April 2023 state?

The Resolution states four main points which we summarize briefly below:

  1. Poland never, during the time of communism or democracy, closed the issue of reparations due to Poland for the material and human loss caused by the Germans during the Second World War and occupation.
  2. Poland has never renounced its claim to reparations from Germany for the material and human loss caused during the Second World War and occupation.
  3. Poland reminds everyone that the issue of reparations due to Poland for the material and human loss caused by the Germans during the Second World War and occupation has never been resolved through an international agreement.
  4. Given the enormity of the injustice, suffering and damage caused by the Germans during the Second World War or occupation, the issue of reparations needs to be settled quickly.

The legal effect of the Resolution is to regulate the issue as of the moment it was published and makes the Polish government's position clear. It also binds all organs of the Polish government to support Poland's claim for reparations.

However, previous to the 2023 Resolution being published, a number of arguments existed to claim that Poland renounced its claims to reparations. Given that these false narratives are still used, below we explain why those false narratives are incorrect and they fail to prove that Poland renounced its right to reparations


Did Poland renounce its claims at the Yalta or Potsdam Conferences?

No. Poland did not participate in drafting any of the agreements that resulted from these conferences; further, Poland was not a signatory to any of these agreements.


The Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam Conferences involved “The Big Three”, i.e. the US, the UK, and the USSR, and the agreements that resulted from these conferences were signed by those countries. Poland did not participate in the conferences nor was Poland a signatory to any agreement that resulted from the Conferences. Therefore, the matters concluded by the conferences affected Poland as a mere bystander to those agreements, including the decisions that led to the redrawing of Poland’s borders.

The main aim of the Yalta Conference was to discuss how the post-war world would operate. In those discussions, reparations that were due by Germany as a belligerent state were discussed.

Section 5.4 of the Protocol of Proceedings drawn up after the Yalta Conference stated that Germany should pay $22 billion in reparations, and half of that amount should be paid to the USSR. Of that amount, USSR should pay 15% ($1.5 billion) to Poland.

The Postdam Agreement formalised the decisions regarding reparations discussed at Yalta. The Inter-Allied Reparations Agency was set up to distribute reparations due from Germany to affected countries. The USSR demanded that Poland be excluded from the Agency’s work; indeed, Section III of the Potsdam Agreement (.pdf) clearly states that Poland would not directly receive reparations and that the USSR would pay Poland from its share of reparations.

Why did Poland not renounce its claims?

Therefore, different arguments explain why the results of the Big Three Conferences do not provide grounds to claim that Poland renounced its rights to reparations:

  • Poland was not a signatory to any resulting agreements,
  • The total of $1.5 billion in no way compensated Poland for its human and material losses, 
  • The estimated value of reparations received from the USSR was completely unrelated to the value of reparations that should have been received. The USSR signed economically deficient agreements (e.g. concerning raw materials) and offered “in-kind” payments of assets (e.g. old, dysfunctional industrial equipment for the equipment taken away and books concerning Marx, Lenin, and Stalin), and
  • International law does not allow the liability of committing war crimes or the consequent harm suffered to be passed onto a different country.  


Did Poland renounce its claims in a 1953 waiver?

No. The Resolution that was published on 18 April 2023 finally resolved this issue and defeated this argument. Nevertheless, the “1953 waiver”, in which it is held that Poland renounced its claims to war reparations, was not a legally binding document. Below, we explain why this was the case.


On 23 August 1953, the Council of Ministers of the Polish People's Republic allegedly, unilaterally declared the renunciation of war reparations. It was minuted in the meeting that was held the previous day that, “the Chairman (Bolesław Bierut) notified the members of the Council of the proposals put forward by the Soviet Government to the Government of the Polish People’s Republic and read out the resolution of 19 August 1953 taken accordingly by the Presidium.” [Emphasis in bold added.]

The resolution allegedly stated, “the Government of the Polish People’s Republic agrees with the Soviet government’s position on the waiver releasing the German Democratic Republic from liability for reparations as of 1 January 1954.

Why is this “1953 waiver” legally ineffective?

For a resolution to become legally effective in Poland, constitutional criteria must be met. The declaration that Poland renounced its claim to reparations did not meet the constitutional criteria of the time. The following explains why the 1953 waiver is not valid.

Lack of competence

The Polish Constitution, enacted on 22 July 1952, stated that the ratification and termination of international treaties lay within the powers of the Council of State, not the Council of Ministers.

Therefore, the Council of Ministers – which allegedly resolved to renounce reparations – did not have the competence to resolve in this way.

No official publication

To be legally binding, resolutions must be published in the official journal of laws, Dzennik Ustaw, or the official gazette, Monitor Polski. However, the resolution was not published in either of these official sources of law between 1953-1956. If an act of law is not published, it is not valid.

No proof of documentation

While the minutes from the meeting on 22 August 1953 exist, there are no records of minutes of a meeting held on 19 August 1953 (see emphasis in bold above) in Volume 68 of the Archive of the Council of Ministers. This volume contains the minutes and resolutions taken by the Council of Ministers and the Presidium of the Government between 18 July and 12 September 1953.

Moreover, there are no resolutions dated 19 August 1953 despite this alleged resolution being recorded in the minutes of the meeting on 22 August 1953.

The only documents present in Volume 68 show the minutes of the Government Presidium meetings of 12 August 1953 (Meeting No. 26) and of 22 August 1953 (Meeting No. 27).

The numeration of the pages of the minutes for meetings held on 12 and 22 August is continuous and preserved intact. No such document dated 19 August 1953 has been found in the AAN (Archives of Modern Records).

Other arguments

There are other arguments to explain the invalidity or other problems concerning the "1953 waiver", i.e. the lack of signatures on an attendance list (procedurally incorrect which makes a resolution invalid) and that the “waiver” only concerned reparations due from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and not West Germany.

Further, the influence of Soviet duress is clear and Poland being a puppet-Soviet state following orders from the USSR is enough to call the waiver into question. 


Did Poland renounce its claims in The Two Plus Four Agreement?

No. The 1990 Two Plus Four Agreement regulated the reunification of Germany, ultimately led to the regulation of the Polish-German border, and was a general closure to the Second World War. This Agreement did not cover the issue of Polish reparations at all. Further, despite Poland regaining independence in 1989, Poland was not a signatory to this Agreement. Article 34 of The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that "[a] treaty does not create either obligations or rights for a third State without its consent." 


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