Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky has affirmed his commitment to his country’s $50 million fund to compensate Nazi victims, according to a letter he sent this month to the World Jewish Congress.
“It is a positive development in that it lends the prestige of the Office of the Chancellor to a commitment of flexibility with respect to payment of this fund,” Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said last week.
Austria adopted a law June 1 that established a fund for Nazi victims, officially known as the National Fund of the Republican of Austria for the Victims of National Socialism.
The fund, introduced by Austria’s governing coalition parties, was created in connection with the 50th anniversary of the republic as a gesture toward victims of the Nazi regime.
“What happened between 1938 and 1945 cannot be mended. Nobody can make the inexpressible suffering and the losses undone or give back the lost days of life,” the chancellor wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 14.
“This reaching out by the Austria of today to those Austrians who were forced to leave by National Socialism is first and foremost a gesture of humanity, warmth and welcome,” the chancellor wrote.
“It is to make them feel that the Austria of today is remembering them, that they belong to it and that their existence is not suppressed, forgotten or overlooked.”
Vranitzky also said the fund would be set up in a “very unbureaucratic and flexible manner” and that it would “render assistance very quickly.”
Steinberg said Aug. 24 that if the fund is flexible as the letter indicates, much more than $50 million would be needed to compensate those eligible.
In an earlier media release from the Austrian government, beneficiaries of the fund included who were “persecuted by the Nazi regime out of political, racial, religious, or ethnic reasons; because of their sexual orientation; or [because of] their disabilities.”
However, the guidelines for eligibility remain unclear, Steinberg said.
“There are outstanding ambiguities and clear shortcomings in the legislation as it now stands,” he said.
The next step in the compensation process is for the chancellor, as well as the parliamentary committee created for this endeavor, to set up specific, nondiscriminatory criteria for eligibility and a scheduled of payment, Steinberg said.
The WJC official stressed that time was an important factor in the compensation process. “The longer the wait, the less recipients alive,” he said.
About 25,000 to 30,000 former Jews of Austria are alive from the World War II period, according to the WJC.