Caught in the Net of NS History

Der Standard (11/29/2006)
by Renate Graber

The Historical Commission appointed by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt is involved with the role of the banks during the NS era. One result: Austria’s institutes followed their own policy of expansionism

Actually it is due to the activities of U.S. class-action attorney, Ed Fagan, that those interested in contemporary history now have been presented with two volumes containing 2,019 pages on the role of Austrian banks during the NS era. The authors researched the activities of the Creditanstalt-Bankverein, regional banks, Länderbank and the Zentralsparkasse. The independent Historical Commission appointed by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt (BA-CA) included Gerald D. Feldman, Oliver Rathkolb, Theodor Venus and Ulrike Zimmerl. On Wednesday, Director of BA-CA, Johann Strobl, presented their work in Vienna.

The largest Austrian bank became ensnarled in its own NS history in 1998. Ed Fagan made the lawsuit involving millions of dollars pending on behalf of the 30,000 surviving Holocaust victims who saw themselves as affected by, for example, having their accounts frozen or aryanized. The BA-CA found itself forced to enter settlement discussions over restitution payments. In January 2000, the U.S. court approved the “Holocaust Settlement” involving the BA-CA and agreed with the Nazi victims. The bank paid 40 million dollars (at the time 38.6 million euros), and committed itself to allowing independent researchers to shed light upon their NS history.

Important Results
Head of the Commission, U.S. university professor, Feldman, claimed that the most important result was “the assumption that the fault lay totally with the Germans was proved wrong. Austria’s banks followed their own policy of expansionism. One wanted to have it allied to the time before 1919.” According to Venus, also the Zentralbank had surprisingly expanded. Because, however, the business of making loans fell apart, head of the Zentralbank, Walther Schmidt, tried “to find a way out because he had to of course earn the interest. He found a way via the Reich’s bonds.

Historian Feldman found a direct involvement with business being made with the concentration camps in the CA in Cracow, from which money flowed in 1941 for prisoners. Conflicting revelations were to be found throughout the entire history of the banks, depicted also in the example of Oskar Schindler, “savior of the Jews,” who also had a CA account in Cracow.

Denazification after 1945 was made up of two phases, as everywhere in Austria: Initially “fast and intensive” (Rathkolb), followed by being subject to the laws of amnesty, and then highly slowed down.”