April 28, 2003
We have extended our distribution to include new readers in Australia. Welcome to Jewish News from Austria.
In this third issue of our newsletter, we are bringing you mainly articles on the results publicized by the Historical Commission in Vienna. In addition, you will find information on the extension of deadlines for restitution applications.
You may also read about the work of the “Amcha” Association in Israel which continues to manage social welfare projects.
Also find out about the tradition established by the Jewish Welcome Center in Vienna inviting former Austrians to visit the city of their birthplace.
Austrian Press and Information Service
Final Report by Historical Commission
Expropriation in Austria During NS Era and Compensation After 1945
On February 24, 2003 the Austrian Historical Commission presented its comprehensive, 14,000-page report on the systematic confiscation of property of Jews and other victims during NS times. The report also contains information on restitution and compensation by the Republic of Austria after 1945. Consisting of 53 individual reports written by 160 international researchers over a period of four-and-a-half years, the results are summarized in a 453-page final report. Total costs of the study amount to € 6.5 million. The final report in German as well as press releases in English can be found on the internet at www.historikerkommission.gv.at A complete English version is being planned for the near future, and the printed German version will soon be made available by Oldenbourg Publishers. The purpose of the report is to help as many people as possible to understand difficult and sensitive problems of Austria’s recent history. The Historical Commission also hopes to help prepare the ground for legal steps.
Under investigation were the following issues: “Aryanization”, National Minorities; Victims of Political Persecution; The Roman Catholic Church; the “Holding Commissioner”; Forced Labor; Genesis of Restitution and Compensation Legislation, and Analysis of Its Practical Implementation. Investigators were historians, lawyers, art historians, economists and experts in journalism and communications from a wide spectrum of countries, including Germany, Switzerland, the U.S., the Czech Republic and others.
The Commission criticized Austria’s postwar governments for their reluctance to indemnify Nazi victims, saying they acted “often halfheartedly and hesistantly.” At the same time, it rejected assertions that Austria had done nothing “to return property values and to lessen suffering”, claiming that its attempts at compensation and restitution were often hampered by ambiguous laws and subject to bureaucratic obstacles.” Quantifying the injustice committed during the Nazi era for purposes of a fair restitution is impossible, admits the Commission, and the report can never serve as a final stroke in Austria’s involvement with her NS past. Nonetheless, according to Gideon Taylor, executive vice-president of the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, “there seems now to be a new outlook in Austria and we welcome the change.”
Inquiries can be addressed to:
Dr. Reinhard Binder-Krieglstein, Mag. Eva Blimlinger
Sekretariat der Historikerkommission
Nottendorfer Gasse 2
Tel. +43 1 79540-180, 181
Fax: +43 1 79540-186
Restitution: City Investigates Real Estate
Late Review of Dubious Real Estate Businesses During Nazi Times
The City of Vienna will investigate the sources of all public property it owns which possibly was acquired illegally during NS times. The decision to finance the project was unanimously approved by the City Council. Approximately € 451,000 will be made available for a research project entitled “Scientific Documentation of Property in the Possession of the City of Vienna/ Municipality of Vienna.”
Some 65,000 pieces of real estate will be researched by the Historical Commission, claimed the research coordinator, Eva Blimlinger. Important is not only the question of restitution but also the type of restitution. Restitution representative, Kurt Scholz, referred to numerous grievances of injustice voiced regarding the return of confiscated property.
“Questions of compensation were always dealt with when there was international pressure,” admits Scholz, referring to the failures of the past. But this time the City is authorizing an investigation without any pressure from the outside.
Scholz considers genuine compensation to be impossible. Payment for loss of a furnished apartment comes to $ 7,000. The investigation will be brought to a close in one year. The final report will be published on the internet.
Restitution Currently 23,400 purchases by the City during the times were investigated. Some 2,500 objects have been already returned. It is often difficult, however, to find the legitimate heirs.
For more information consult: www.historikerkommission.gv.at
NS Restitution: Real Estate Sources of Business Project
Associated Press (01/19/03)
Decision by the City Council
Some 12,600 Investments to be Examined
Decision as to Return to be Arbitrated by Authorities
of Restitution Fund
Vienna – The City of Vienna is launching a research project on the source of all public real estate which has been possibly acquired unlawfully during the NS period. The City Council voted unanimously for financing the project with € 451,000, claimed the Viennese City Cultural Councillor Andreas Mailath-Pokorny.
Under investigation are 12,600 socalled “investments”, said the Research Coordinator of the Historical Commission, Eva Blimlinger. As to how many pieces of property it concerns is yet unknown since numerous pieces can be assigned to one investment. The historians hope to complete their investigation within a year.
Edith Leisch-Prost, Verena Pawlowsky and Harald Wendelin, having already worked for the Historical Commission, were officially authorized to present their 14,000-page report to the public at the end of February. Investigators were historians, lawyers, art historians, economists and experts in journalism and communications from a wide spectrum of countries. Experts from within were intentionally not consulted since the goal was to obtain “critical information from outside, unbiased sources”, claimed Blimlinger.
Contrary to the past, whereas one reacted out of international pressure and was forced to deal with the issue of restitution - and only then according to the principle of dragging it out as long as possible - Vienna has begun the project on its own initiative. In turn one doesn’t have the feeling of “having hidden corpses away in the basement”, explained restitution representative, Kurt Scholz.
Highlighting the complexity of the issue, Blimlinger as well as Scholz emphasize that there is no restitution object clearly suspected of illegal expropriation. Scholz points also here to the restitution laws of 1946 and 1947, which, however, might contain gaps. In other words, restitution for property occurred but more probably under extremely unfair conditions. Here the Federal Law of the Restitution Fund gives precedence to restitution claims. The final decision lies then with the arbitral authority.
It is this board which will then deal together with the City of Vienna as to judging the dates and facts collected by the historians – planned is also the creation of a database. Should the arbitral authority decide that either the property was a matter of having been illegally confiscated or was shelved, those pieces of property shall be returned to their former owners or heirs, whichever may be the case.
Restitution: Deadlines Extended
Wiener Zeitung (03/20/03)
The deadline for former NS forced laborers to submit their applications for restitution has been extended until the end of year 2003. Also, the deadline set for submitting claims for “aryanized” long-term leases at fixed rates and household goods and personal effects are being extended until the end of year 2004.
The time limit for applications submitted for lump sum payments according to the Washington agreement of January 2001 has been terminated as of last year. However, some claimants have missed out on this deadline, said the Secretary General of the National Fund, Hannah Lessing.
At the present time more than 18,000 victims have received a sum of US $7,000, each. One reckons that more than 3,000 payments will be made in the future. A total of US $150 million are at the funds disposal.
The applications which are not affected by the extended deadline are those which fall under the General Law of the Restitution Fund. The time limit set for this is May 28, 2003. Around US $210 million is to be distributed among those applications which are recognized as being valid.
Pending are those payments that are dependent on the outcome of the two class action suits in the U.S.
Currently 600 Holocaust survivors or family dependants have received US $3 million from the Bank Austria-Holocaust-Settlement-Fund. The number of persons who have applied has reached 60,000. Not all of them will receive restitution.
“With Old Age Everything is Divulged”
Der Standard (03/0/03)
The “Amcha” Association in Israel cares for the survivors of the Holocaust who to this day continue to suffer from emotional disturbances due to former persecution. This work is being supported by a contribution of € 70,000 taken from the National Fund.
Natan Kellerman is confronted with the sad reality that “many of our patients are dying on a daily level”. The director and clinical psychologist of the Jewish organization, “Amcha”, administers psycho- and conversational therapy for elderly Holocaust victims in Israel. They continue to suffer still decades later from the aftermath of National Socialism in the form of depression, nightmares, social isolation and family problems.
“These people have failed to be able to return to a ‘normal’ life. Others have never had the time to reflect on what happened, but with old age everything is divulged and comes out”, reports the psychologist from his work with those affected. In view of the imminent danger of war in the Middle East, Natan Kellermann recently has noticed agitation among his patients because repressed memories of earlier times are being aroused. He was, therefore, in Vienna to try to get support for the organization. He, himself, is a son of Jewish Holocaust survivors from Vienna, having grown up in Sweden.
Kellerman estimates that there are about 250,000 survivors of the Holocaust living in Israel, and some 500 of them have sought psychological help during the previous year. Most of them have roots in Austria, Hungary, Poland or Russia.
Since 1988 “Amcha Austria” manages fundraising for social welfare projects in Israel. According to information offered by Karl Semlitsch, Vice President and Military Commander in Vienna, the organization in Austria has succeeded in acquiring up to € 70,000 in contributions or support from the National Fund.
Among other things, it is explicitly stated in the guidelines established by the National Fund in 1995 that such projects designed to offer emotional support and psychotherapy treatment to Holocaust victims are to be supported. Semlitsch believes “reflecting on those who died is important” but one must keep in mind “that for many of the survivors of the Holocaust, this process of working through and accepting what happened is still not over”.
Jewish Welcome Service Greets Again Eighty Guests
Austrian Press Agency (03/29/03)
At a reception for about eighty former Austrians who were invited by the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS) to visit the city of their birth, Federal President Thomas Klestil emphasized that “much of what you or your relatives experienced more than fifty years ago, no one can undo”. “But I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of today’s Austrians have the good will to draw the right conclusions from the past,” claimed the Federal President. Moreover, Klestil pledged: “I, myself, will do everything to see that our country try not to escape from confronting the past.”
It has already become tradition that each spring the director of the JWS, Leon Zelman, invites a group of former Austrians to his home “who for more than a half century ago had to leave their homes under painful and humiliating circumstances”, said Klestil. “Many of these people – and probably many of you – have never understood how it could have been possible to have been avoided, denounced, persecuted, expelled and even killed.”
What happened in Austria between the years 1938 – 1945 serves, however, today as “a warning to my countrymen – that we must mutually resist all inceptions of hatred and intolerance, and allow no chance for it to spread”, exclaimed Klestil. Much is being done about it in present-day Austria. Before the Knesseth in Jerusalem, Klestil guaranteed that there is no place for nationalism and racism in Austria. Some years past the government at the time took up the fight against radicalism. The material compensation “which surely is only a symbolic measure,” became reality. The Historical Commission researched and documented all the details involving “aryanization,” and the City of Vienna appointed its own representatives to deal with restitution.
Klestil also reminded one of the memorial erected two years ago on the Judenplatz in Vienna and of the new synagogue inaugurated shortly thereafter in Graz. Also at that time a large project was begun in Austrian schools to reconstruct the lives and biographies of Austrians killed during the Holocaust. “Thus, the human lives behind the names are being researched.” That is a part of the so very important work being done for remembrance and of the bridge being built between the past and the future.
In his address the Federal President spoke shortly about the war in Iraq. The situation in the world today is truly not one of joy and “there are certainly many issues to be concerned about. A world in conflict, dominated by war and hatred, cannot be a world we want to leave behind for our children,” emphasized Klestil.
Due to the military confrontation between the U.S. and Iraq, the group visiting Vienna has been reduced from 100 to 80. Guests are coming in from the U.S., Israel, Australia, Brazil and France. Apart from the reception given by Klestil, the group will also meet with Vienna’s Mayor, Michael Häupl. The project is being financed by the Bank Austria -Creditanstalt.