NS Compensation: Difficult Search for Victims’ Heirs

Austrian Press Agency (10/31/02)

Currently two problems appear to stand in the way of implementing the NS Compensation Agreement which the Republic of Austria has concluded in Washington on January 17, 2001: the difficult search for heirs of Austrian Nazi victims, and the two pending class-action law suits in the USA which still remain open. Both issues are delaying payments from the Restitution Fund. The General Secretary of the Austrian National Fund for Victims of National Socialism, Hannah Lessing, is searching worldwide for people eligible for compensation before the time limit on claims runs out on May 28, 2003.

To this day some 7,000 restitution claims worldwide have been submitted. Contrary to expectations, that is a very low number because of the somewhat "complicated questionnaire" with very detailed questions regarding assets and line of succession. Another reason is that the children of these victims are scattered throughout the world and cannot always be found. "We don’t wish to leave anything untried in finding as many people eligible as possible," added Hannah Lessing during a conversation with the APA on a trip to the USA.

With lectures in the USA and in other countries Mrs. Lessing is trying to reach particularly the heirs of those Austrian NS victims who died before the Republic of Austria had undertaken compensation. "Whether the children still have any connection with Austria is often the question." Early November she travelled to New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, followed by two weeks in Montevideo, Uruguay.

At a round table in the US State Department, Mrs. Lessing spoke also with the US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, and his predecessor, former US Deputy Treasury Secretary and representative of the NS Restitution Negotiations, Stuart Eizenstat about the actual problems. Two class-action suits submitted against the Republic of Austria are still pending before the American courts which are being represented by the lawyers, Jay Fialkoff and Herbert Fenster. Until legal peace has been established, The Republic of Austria is unable to disburse payments for NS restitution agreed upon in the Washington Agreement.

The US government will try to have the complaints be withdrawn reported Mrs. Lessing upon conclusion of talks. It also lies in the interest of the American government and the former negotiator that there is legal peace and that restitution payments can begin. Meanwhile one asks oneself daily, "What does it mean for us to have no money for paying out restitution?" The answer: "The clock is ticking and former victims are dying every day."