Jump to main content

Germany vs. Italy: Compensation for Nazi Crimes

Germany vs. Italy: Compensation for Nazi Crimes

The highest Greek court, the Areopagus, ordered the Federal Republic to pay compensation in a suit brought by civilian victims of the Nazi occupation. The Federal Republic had previously invoked the principle of state immunity under international law. According to this principle, the state is responsible to the other state, but not to private citizens.

The only country in the EU that recognized the Greek decision was Italy; thus, the Greek plaintiffs had succeeded in enforcing German property in Italy (including Villa Vigoni on Lake Como!). The Federal Republic brought an action against this before the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), which endorsed the view of the Federal Republic in its decision of February 3, 2012. The execution was suspended.

However, many Italian courts subsequently remained unimpressed by the ICJ's 2012 decision - even though the Italian government had announced that it would respect the ruling - and continued to uphold lawsuits brought by Italian victims of the Nazi regime against the Federal Republic. It is argued that reparations for the most serious human rights violations committed by the SS outside of wartime operations take precedence even over international law.

The Federal Republic has now taken the Italian Republic to the ICJ again in May 2022 to put a definitive end to the practice of the Italian courts.

The editors of the Client Letter do not have an unlimited legal horizon - especially in international law. Nevertheless, we wonder why a decision of the ICJ (which may well be wrong) is not sufficient to satisfy the parties, what new facts should be pending for decision and how a decision of the ICJ should bind an Italian judge. If this article is read, moreover by an expert, we would be grateful for a clarifying letter.