A Stolen Life

Kurier (11/16/05)

Today, the National Council of the Austrian Parliament has decided upon advance payments to NS victims from the General Settlement Fund. Historians and lawyers are examining 20,000 individual claims

Silvia wanted to attend Gymnasium but was not allowed to. Silvia wanted to become a tailor, but failed to receive permission. The young woman was not lacking intelligence or ambition; instead, she was lacking a father. He died in 1938. His legacy became her pitfall because he was a Jew. The Nazis classified the girl as a "Grade-1 crossbreed." " As half-Jewish, I was not allowed to take my graduating exam," explained the eighty-two year-old to members of the National Fund.

Now colleagues of the General Settlement Fund are looking into her case. The old lady filed an application for restitution. She completed page 23 in the section on "Professional and Education-Related Losses." " Many of our applicants are filing under this section, explains the Deputy Secretary General of the General Settlement Fund, Christine Schwab." Her professional career would have been different had she been allowed to complete certain schools. Silvia became a certified tailor, but only after the war. "Restitution can only be a rapprochement, but never true compensation," says Schwab.

By May 2003, some 19,364 applications had been filed with the General Settlement Fund which consisted of 200,000 individual claims ranging from real estate, bank accounts, to insurance policies and professional- and education-related losses. About 16,000 cases have been either researched and completed, or are being processed. A total of 142 employees, lawyers, historians and political scientists are trying to complete the cases as quickly and accurately as possible. Partly it is a race against death since of the seventy percent of all applicants directly affected, only a few are younger than age sixty.

210 million US Dollars are waiting to be paid. Payments can only begin once legal peace has been established and all pending lawsuits against Austria have been dropped. The last suit pending against Austria is about to be rejected.

To disburse payments to the victims as quickly as possible, the Austrian Parliament will confirm today, Wednesday, the possibility of advance payments. Otherwise, it will take even longer until payments can be disbursed because all of the cases need to be clarified. Thus, the total sum will be estimated and a quota calculated. The Chairman of the General Settlement Fund, Andreas Khol, puts the total sum of the claims at 800 Million US dollars. Currently 210 Million US dollars are available, allowing for each applicant to receive approximately a quarter of the claim.

Secretary General of the National Fund Hannah Lessing does not wish to settle for a specific sum just yet: "It is clear that it will be a percentage of the claim."

In the meanwhile, a lot remains to be done. Historians have found applicants having widespread families. The files of twenty-two related applicants spread into claims amounting to one hundred NS victims.

Another case is simpler: Two Jewish sisters were able to escape to Australia via England at the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Their parents had been murdered and their clothing store located at Victor-Adler-Markt liquidated. In addition, the family owned stock and real estate. The historians of the fund successfully located material in the state archive; the Nazis were meticulous bookkeepers and kept track of Jewish property. Ironically, the ones benefiting from that today are the victims seeking justice sixty years later.