VIENNA (Feb. 12)
The Austrian government is expected to soon ratify legislation that will pay $25 million over a five-year period to Jewish institutions for the elderly and handicapped in Israel, the United States, Austria and other countries.
The expected legislation complements legislation passed Jan. I, which awarded at least $165 million in social security benefits to Holocaust survivors who were born in Austria before 1930, eight years prior to the Anschluss.
Both laws, although written in language devoid of the words “reparations” or “compensation,” have been heralded as the first recognition by Austria of its responsibility for the victims and survivors of Nazi anti-Semitism.
The new legislation, expected to be formalized “at an early Cabinet meeting,” according to a spokesman for the Austrian Finance Ministry, marks an end to two years of negotiations between the Vienna government and the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria.
In New York, Dr. Israel Miller, president of the committee, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the new legislation enables Jewish institutions as well as individuals to benefit.
“The extension of social insurance pensions to new groups and the commitment of funds for social care projects benefitting the frail, elderly former Austrian Jews is a great achievement 52 years after the Anschluss,” Miller said.
Miller explained that the beneficiaries of the new law will include older age groups, including Jews born between March 13, 1924, and May 9, 1930, who until now were excluded from benefits.
In addition, current recipients of small pensions will be able to apply for increases.
WJC SCOFFS AT AMOUNT
The official Austrian position since World War II had been that since Austria was the first victim of Nazi aggression, the successor state to the Third Reich was liable to pay compensation for atrocities committed on Austrian soil.
But West Germany specifically excluded Austrian persecutees when it agreed to pay reparations to Israel and to Jewish victims of Nazi persecution in 1952.
The Austrian position came under increasing attack by historians in recent years and the government’s attitude began to change.
Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, leader of the Socialist Party, reopened talks with the Claims Committee in 1985 when he was finance minister.
Some Jewish leaders feel that the relatively small pension and institutional allotments, compared with West Germany’s reparation payments of more than $38 billion, are merely a publicity ploy on the part of the Austrian government to bolster its sagging world image.
“It’s a macabre joke,” said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress. “If this is meant as reparations, than the figures are an insult to the memories of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.”
In Vienna, the Illustrierte Neue Welt, a Jewish monthly founded by Theodor Herzl more than 90 years ago, observed, “The mask of Austria as a victim should have come off much earlier for the good of its own reflection in the mirror.”