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Austria, Jews reach restitution agreement
Austrian survivors' settlement means money, pensions, doctors
By Sharon Samber
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
January 24, 2001
WASHINGTON, After last-minute negotiating, Austria,
United States and Jewish
groups signed an agreement under which Austria will pay millions of dollars
to Holocaust survivors.
Until the 11th hour, it looked as if the deal might collapse, as
Austrian officials and the country's Jewish
community couldn't quite reach agreement on terms.
But late Wednesday, Austria agreed to pay $210 million, plus
approximately $20 million in interest, to
cover victims' property claims and unpaid insurance polices.
The government also will pay an estimated $100 million in social
benefits to Austrian Jews.
The talks were prodded along by Jewish groups' insistence that a
settlement must be made quickly because
of survivors' advanced age.
Another motivating factor was concern about what might happen under a
new U.S. administration that has
not identified Holocaust restitution as a priority, and which will lose the
stewardship of Deputy Treasury Secretary
Stuart Eizenstat, the U.S. point man on Holocaust issues.
There is no way of knowing how the incoming Bush administration will
deal with restitution efforts, said
Israel Singer, who was involved in the negotiations.
Singer, the secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, said it
take months just to coordinate
efforts with the new administration. Eizenstat reportedly fought hard for a
deal during the two days of talks in
Washington and personally pressured Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel
for the social welfare package.
The benefits, which include pensions and nursing care, was a major
concern for Jewish groups in the
The agreement will give lifetime pensions to all Austrian Jewish
survivors, including about 10,000 living
in the United States.
``It's the best that can be done under the circumstances," said Gideon
Taylor, executive vice president of
the Claims Conference, which represents world Jewry in negotiations for
compensation and restitution.
The Claims Conference won a streamlined process for dispensing a $150
million payment finalized in
October, which covers household property and apartment and small business
leases. That accord gives $7,000 to
each of an estimated 21,000 Jews who lost property.
Austria had promised a $150 million settlement for the insurance and
property claims after negotiations in
December, but Jewish groups called that inadequate. Wednesday's deal ups the
In May, months after a similar settlement by Germany, Austria agreed to
pay $395 million to roughly
150,000 former slave and forced laborers. Wednesday's agreement, which also
includes millions for a land deal
with the Hakoah Sports Club, brings to $900 million the total Austria has
promised in the last year for its role in
The $210 million will go into the General Settlement Fund, with money
from the public and private
sectors, and acknowledges the importance of paying compensation immediately.
An arbitration panel will be
established to review claims of government property that once was owned by
the Austrian Jewish community or by
Addressing communal property concerns is very important, Eizenstat
adding that one of the
agreement's key components is to ``assure the continuity of the Austrian
The president of the Austrian Jewish community said some issues are
complicated and he still wants
lawyers to review the agreement.
Ariel Muzicant said he generally was satisfied with the agreement, but
he only initialed it and still wants
clarification on property restitution issues.
Muzicant is pushing for the return of all Aryanized property that is
still held by any public entity, not just
``When I say everything, I mean everything," he said.
The Austrian Jewish community is behind him 100 percent, Muzicant says.
After the lawyers review the agreement and he meets with Austrian
officials, Muzicant said he would
determine what to do.
The comprehensive agreement is intended to bring ``legal peace" to
Austria, which has been under
pressure by the United States to resolve the restitution issues. But the
processing of claims will be very complex,
said Hannah Lessing, a Jewish official at Austria's National Fund for
of National Socialism, the body
disbursing the claims payment.
In the joint statement issued by all the parties, Austria admitted its
``moral responsibility" and said it is
``facing up to the light and dark sides of its past and to the deeds of all
Austrians, good and evil."
``No amount of money can undo the tremendous suffering and losses that
have been inflicted on our
Jewish citizens," said Austrian Ambassador Ernst Sucharipa at the signing
The admission that mistakes were made and that Austria did not treat
Jews fairly is particularly
important for attorney E. Randol Schoenberg and his clients. Schoenberg,
whose family escaped from Vienna
before the Holocaust, represents over 100 clients seeking restitution.
``The acknowledgment means more to them than the money,'' he said.
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.