Historical Commission Appointed by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt Submits Final Report

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (11/29/2006)

History of the Bank Austria/Creditanstalt (BA-CA) during the NS era and after the war

Vienna – The Historical Commission, which was appointed in year 2000 by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt as a result of a U.S. class action suit involving victims of aryanization, submitted their final report on Wednesday. The two volumes consisting of about 2,000 pages include research on Bank Austria/Creditanstalt during the NS era and following the war. Under investigation were the Creditanstalt Bankverein, the Creditanstalt Regional banks, Länderbank and Zentralsparkasse. Moreover, an archive containing original documents was also created.

After five years of researching archives in Austria and Europe, historians came to the conclusion that with the exception of the Zentralsparkasse in Vienna, the parent institutions of today’s Bank Austria and Creditanstalt were controlled by German establishments. Creditanstalt-Bankverein found itself under majority control of the Deutsche Bank, the Länderbank was an affiliate of Dresdner Bank, for example, but they had considerable room for maneuver. Head of the Historical Commission, Gerald D. Feldman from UC Berkeley, found that the German dictates limited themselves to certain basic conditions within which the banks, however, dictated their own policy.

In addition, Feldman maintains that “throwing out” the Jews happened not only in their own branch banks but also in the industrial plants in which the banks had holdings. Moreover, it was discovered that a strong expansionist movement began in the direction of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Poland. Vienna was considered the economic and political hub for the East. One attempted to reestablish the conditions of the k. u. k. era. The military conquest paved the way for the financial institutions: “Where the army was, were the banks.” The branch in Cracow conducted, with the help of an arrangement made with the SS, its own section for customers living in concentration camps. The funds from those who died remained with the bank. The political co-management of the financial institutions was also found in the granting of credit to, for example, weapons firms. Some interesting details on the side: also the Sudeten German, Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of many Jews, had an account with the CA.

Also, after 1939 the higher echelons of management within the Zentralbank underwent “cleansing;” that is, replaced by 1942 at the latest, they were clearly earmarked for National Socialists. According to one of the Commission’s members, Theodor Venue, Lecturer at the University of Vienna, the saving banks (Sparkassen) were in terms of the statutes closely coupled with the NS regime, the consequences of which allowed the Nazis to penetrate Vienna’s municipal bodies as well as the Sparkasse.

Concerning denazification after WW II, Oliver Rathkolb from the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna believed that first of all the Reich’s Germans were removed from the three banks followed by the members of the NSDAP. Later during the times of compensation, the Creditananstalt and the Länderbank refrained from taking any own initiative and held rather closely to state regulations. Subsequently, bank account holders partially had to wait until 1961 for the “Abgeltungsfondsgesetz” (Compensation Fund’s Act). Thus, over the course of many years, there was a “wide range of stagnant accounts.”

Ulrike Zimmerl, historian and project coordinator of the Commission, was responsible for the documentation archive of the BA-CA. The source of the material used by the Historical Commission, consisting of documents measuring one and one-half kilometers long, will be made available to the public. The results of the researchers have been published by C.H. Beck Publishers under the title, “Österreichische Banken und Sparkassen im Nationalsozialisumus und in der Nachkriegszeit” and will soon be translated into English.