NS Restitution: First One Hundred Letters to Be Sent Out Today

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (12/02/05)

Vienna - With the conclusion of the Commemorative Year 2005, the first payments will be made from the General Settlement Fund, the core of the restitution agreement reached between the governments of Austria and the United States, and the representatives of victims’ organizations. The first one hundred letters to victims will be sent out today, Thursday. Until the end of the year this number will rise to 921. Since 2001 a total of 19,300 applications have been filed, two thirds of which are from survivors. Restitution will be made for seven categories of losses and damages during the NS regime within the borders of current-day Austria.

Out of the 19,300 applications, 3,500 were declared as officially definitive this week. Preference is given to the oldest applicants. Payments cannot be made yet to about half of the 3,500 cases, mostly due to missing documents such as inheritance paperwork in the cases of deceased applicants. Some 1,700 cases can be regarded as completed; of those, 200 were denied, 600 are below the minimum threshold of USD 500, leaving 900 which can expect payments before the end of the year. The quotas for prepayments will be announced this afternoon by the Board.

Prepayments of 10% are planned for categories including businesses and business assets, real estate (if no natural restitution has been granted), bank accounts, stocks, mortgages, movable assets, and other losses and damages. Prepayments of 15% will be made for insurance policies, as well as education and career-related losses that can be traced back to the NS Regime in Austria. The final quota for payments can be determined after all 19,300 applications have been determined. But prepayments are expected to cover most of the total amounts awarded. Awards under USD 500 will not be paid, as the maximum threshold is set at USD 2 million.

Originally, all payments were to begin after all cases had been determined. Due to the length of the suit, however, which has been going on for years, and the advanced age of many applicants, the possibility of prepayments became an option. The deadline for applications was May 2003. Start of payments was also dependent on legal peace between Austria and the United States which means that there are no pending lawsuits against Austria in the U.S. The money for the Fund, which totals USD 210 million, is coming from the Austrian Federal Government (USD 60 million), the City of Vienna (35 million), banks (45 million), insurance companies (25 million), industry (10 million), the Chamber of Commerce (15 million), and the ÖIAG (32 million).

The General Settlement Fund, which is managed by the National Fund, is not the only means by which victims have been or will be indemnified. Most measures have been negotiated in January 2001 between the governments of Austria and the United States, with the inclusion of victims’ representatives. A separate restitution fund has been established for former slave laborers during the NS Regime. The Versöhnungsfonds (Reconciliation Fund) made payments totaling 352 Million Euros to 131, 578 individuals and will stop its activities at the end of the year.

Furthermore, there are plans to return real estate, which was confiscated during the NS regime and now is owned by public entities (Restitution in rem). The application deadline for this type of restitution has been extended until the end of 2006. A social welfare package for Holocaust survivors has also been negotiated. And, finally, the government pledged to rebuild the Jewish sports club Hakoah, to restore and maintain Jewish cemeteries in Austria, and to continue art restitution.