Austria to Return to Jews Art Stolen by the Nazis

The Austrian government has agreed to return to Jewish ownership all art works that were confiscated by the Nazis from Jews during World War II, the World Jewish Congress reported.

Agreement on the return of the art was reached here yesterday in a meeting between Austrian Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz and WJC Secretary General Israel Singer. Austrian Chancellor Fred Sinowatz telephoned them during their meeting to express his support for the return of the art to Jewish ownership. He confirmed that this was the understanding he had reached in a private meeting with WJC president Edgar Bronfman last January 29.

The confiscated art was given to Austria by U.S. military forces in 1955 on condition that Austria make “every effort to return the works to the extent they had not already done so” to the original owners or heirs. The art had been stored in a monastery near Vienna since 1955. But many paintings and other items were removed for placement in museums and other Austrian institutions.

Despite contradictory comments by Austrian officials during the past few months, Singer said that Sinowatz and Gratz made it clear that the agreement covers all the works of art, including those currently in state museums. Sinowatz told Singer that he would as the Parliament, when it reconvenes, to pass a law establishing that all the objects looted by the Nazis were the property of and are to be returned to the rightful Jewish owners.

Under the agreement, a complete list of the artwork is to be made available and disseminated through the media so that rightful owners and their heirs may file claims, after a six month period. Artworks for which rightful claimants cannot be determined, will pass to the ownership of the international Jewish community with the proceeds to be divided among Jewish Holocaust survivors living in Austria and around the world.

According to Singer, Sinowatz said yesterday’s meeting was to clarify and reaffirm the understanding he reached with Bronfman in view of “some bureaucratic foot-dragging” since their meeting six months ago. Singer added that Sinowatz has instructed Finance Minister Franz Vranitsky and Science Minister Heinz Fischer to proceed “with all due speed” in expediting this matter.

Bronfman announced that the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria, under the chairmanship of Rabbi Israel Miller, would be the agency responsible for all technical arrangements and procedures on behalf of the Jewish community.

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