It is a great pleasure for me to introduce myself to you. I have recently assumed the position of Christoph Meran, former Director of the Austrian Press & Information Service, who left at the end of September. Over the years I have been working in the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs dealing with Austrian-American and European-American relations. One of the most challenging and rewarding projects involved negotiating and implementing an agreement on the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, which disbursed payments to victims of forced labor under the NS regime. This agreement was concluded in close cooperation with the U.S. administration in 2000. For the last three years I was assigned to the Austrian Embassy in Moscow.
I look forward to continuing the tradition of this Newsletter and keeping you, dear readers of "Jewish News from Austria", informed about cultural, political and historical news covered by the Austrian media in the forthcoming years. I would therefore appreciate your feedback and suggestions, particularly in regard to its content.
We have tried to present a wide array of articles published in the Austrian media in the course of the last six months covering topics, such as the rebirth of the traditional Hakoah sports club, enlarged youth activities of the Israelite Jewish Community as well as the restitution of art expropriated during the NS era and international issues.
This year has been marked by the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. On December 3, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik opened a conference in Jerusalem marking this occasion and in the course of this visit met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Also this year, Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, along with other paintings from the Bloch-Bauer collection, were returned to Maria Altmann, the only surviving niece of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer’s brother. Representatives of both sides agreed to submit the case to an arbitration court in Austria. The court finally ruled that the conditions for restitution had been fulfilled based upon the 1998 Austrian federal law on restitution of art.
Research on establishing ownership (provenance) is ongoing. Austria’s National Fund has set up a unique database on art objects containing information on objects of art and of cultural value which are currently held in museums and collections by the Republic of Austria or the City of Vienna and which, according to most recent provenance research, may have been expropriated during the NS era.
Finally, we would like to introduce two new institutions, the Scholarship Foundation and the Future Fund that were created as successor organizations to the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, which concluded its work at the end of 2005. The Future Fund has been established to support research work and projects in remembrance of NS victims and to promote international humanitarian cooperation, respect for human rights and tolerance. Among the projects that have been fostered so far were publications, seminars and research work but also initiatives like the project "Flowers in Remembrance" which we presented in the last issue.
I wish you Happy Hanukkah!
Austrian Press and Information Service