"Letter to the Editor" submitted on behalf of the Austrian Federal Government by

Bundespressedienst (Federal Press Services) (07/09/03)

Part III

The following is a reaction to the letter of support written by Austrian authors and artists to the Austrian Federal Government and published by various sources of media:

Upon the initiative of Federal Minister Elisabeth Gehrer during the twelfth meeting of the Austrian Council of Ministers on June 3, 2003, the Austrian Federal Government resolved positively on a report containing an offer on interim aid for the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG, in English: Israelite Religious Community) which was subsequently submitted to the Parliament. The National Council adopted the offer within the context of the laws accompanying the budget. We, thus, reiterate this offer submitted by the Federal Government verbatim:

"In numerous communications to personalities in public life as well as through press releases and interviews, the President of the Israelite Religious Community (IKG) in Vienna, Dr. Ariel Muzicant, has increasingly alluded to a considerable deficit in the budget of the IKG in Vienna. Austria is aware of its responsibility for the Jewish communites and has underscored its interest in a well functioning community life by having supported the IKG substantially for decades."

Assuming Responsibility for our Past through Restitution
The Federal law regarding financial payments to the Israelite Religious Community, BGBI. Nr. 222/1960 idF BGBI. Nr. 317/1996, provides for a one-time payment of 10.4 million Euros (current monetary value) as compensation for devastated synagogues, prayer houses, cemeteries and religious objects owned by the Jewish Community as well as an open-ended annual allocation of 772,177.72 Euros (current monetary value) to be paid indefinitely beginning in 1958. The assessment of this annual sum is based on the number of members of the IKG prior to 1938 (see footnote at the end of Part III).

In 2001 the groundwork was laid by Federal Chancellor Dr. Wolfgang Schüssel, together with Ambassador Dr. Ernst Sucharipa and former U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat in the "Washington Agreement" for closing the remaining gaps in the Federal Law on Restitution for Victims of National Socialism. The core part of this agreement is the General Settlement Fund endowed with Austrian funds totaling 210 million USD (254 million Euros). The most important matter now is for the two pending class-action suits in the USA to be dismissed so that legal peace is established and payments can begin without delay. The President of the IKG, Dr. Ariel Muzicant, helped negotiate and signed the Washington Agreement. Without his cooperation the Agreement would not have come about. On May 28, 2003 the IKG submitted 777 applications submitted on May 28, 2003 to the General Settlement Fund.

On June 12, 2002 the Federal provinces, together with the IKG, concluded an agreement on the restitution of property loss during the NS period in the amount of 18.168 million Euros. This agreement is separate from that of the Washington Agreement. The due date of payments also depends on the establishment of legal peace in the USA.
On the basis of Federal law regarding the restitution of art objects from Austrian museums and collections, (BGBI. I Nr. 181/1988), a total of 1,544 inventory numbers could be returned by the deadline date, December 3, 2002 with the support of the IKG.

Continual Support for the Jewish Community in Austria due to their Special Significance in the Present
In Austria, legally recognized churches and religious communities in Austria have a legal claim to reimbursement for the entire cost of employing teachers for their privately directed schools according to public law.
The IKG maintains annually some 80 teaching positions amounting to 4.2 million Euros. Moreover, as with all other legally recognized churches and religious communities, costs for religious instruction are also being covered.
Furthermore, the Federal government grants numerous subsidies for supporting the development of Jewish life. These include among other things the support of the construction of the Religious Center in the Seitenstettengasse and promotion of the Jewish Museums in Vienna, Eisenstadt and Hohenems with a total amount of 6.27 million Euros.

Since 1979 the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) has annually supported the technical equipment of security installations properties at risk; the total volume of this support to this day amounts to about 815,000 Euros.
To ensure the security of Jewish institutions in Austria, special security measures, either on the spot or within the framework of actual patrol duty. Numerous Jewish objects are guarded around the clock or for special situations by policemen in uniform. For this service alone, the Federal Ministry of the Interior spends annually about 3 million Euros. Furthermore, an additional 50,000 Euros per year is spent on security for special occasions.

An aid fund within the Federal Ministry for Social Security, Generations and Consumer Protection allowed for the financial support of a special program (a home for parents) for the Israelite Religious Community with a total of 2,543.549 Euros.
In addition, the association "ESRA" has been receiving yearly subsidies since 1993 for the psychosocial care of Holocaust victims. In 2002 approximately 83,574 Euros were paid out in the form of subsidy. After 2003 the annual amount of subsidies will reach 90,000 Euros. The total number of payments granted for that purpose totaled 577,740 Euros.
Some 7,267 - 13,081.11 Euros drawn from the equity tax fund for victims assistance are used to support the publication of the magazine, "The Community" (containing information for those eligible for psychosocial care). In 2003 the annual sum was increased to 16,500 Euros.

Over the last number of years, substantial financial measures were also taken in favor of Holocaust victims and their surviving dependants, some of whom also belong to the IKG. During the past ten years a total of 21.8 million Euros was used to finance international projects for care of the elderly who were former Jewish NS victims and their relatives via the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria.

According to the Victims Assistance Act (OFG), payments in 2002 have been made to victims of NS persecution for pensions and restitution amounting to 12.8 million Euros. In March of 2002 important improvements were made in the area of pensions and care.

The IKG can expect 18.168 million Euros from the agreement with the Federal provinces and a yet unknown sum from the General Settlement Fund. In light of the deadlines and the fact that legal peace has not yet been established in the USA, it, nevertheless, appears necessary to offer the IKG interim aid without additional interest so that community life can be maintained without interruption.

Austria has offered a variety of financial measures for decades and is also prepared to further support the IKG beyond these existing measures.

To that end the following steps should be taken:

Contact should be taken up with the Federal provinces to have them make initial down payments on the basis of the agreement of June 12, 2002 before legal peace has been established.
The Federal government offers direct interim aid to the IKG in the form of an annual loan without interest of 772,000 Euros for the years 2003 until 2005 at the latest. These loans will be offset by the total sum resulting from a decision on the claims filed by the IKG with the General Settlement Fund after the establishment of legal peace.
Support of future oriented projects of the IKG in the areas of education, security and social life as in past years by the Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Culture (BMBWK), the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) and the Federal Ministry of Social Security and Generations (BMSG).

The Federal Government assumes that the IKG will contribute as much as possible to finding an immediate solution to legal peace in the interest of the victims.

Footnote (editorial remark): Yearly allocation of funds for the IKG is based upon the Federal Law of October 26, 1960, for the Financial Support of the Israelite Religious Community (BGBI. Nr. 222/1960 idgF). This yearly allocation was assessed not according to the actual number of members in the IKG (about 7,200) as is the case when assessing other religious communities, but rather according to their historical membership numbers dating back to 1938 (about 150,000). The IKG, itself, had kept record of its approval of this federal legislation in its Report of Activities 1960 to 1964: "Thus the funding offered the Jewish religious community, compared to that allotted the Christian religious communities, exceeds the latter by far, something which according to the numerical portion of the Jewish population was not to be expected. In this respect it is not the numerical but moral weight of the claims which asserted itself and remains the historical service of all of our representatives who had a part in the accomplishment of this legislation." (pg. 250-51).