WASHINGTON, May 16 (JTA) — The United States is stepping up pressure on Austria to settle a broad range of Holocaust-era issues.
The chief U.S. official on Holocaust restitution issues, Stuart Eizenstat, made the American stance clear before traveling to Vienna, where representatives of seven countries are talking about creating an Austrian fund for Holocaust-era slave laborers.
“While I’m pleased with Austrian commitments on this topic, the Austrian government and Austrian companies also need to address property restitution,” Eizenstat, the U.S. deputy treasury secretary, told JTA.
He said Austria could appoint a special representative to deal with property issues and announce interim measures to deal with gaps in past restitution programs.
Eizenstat said he also expects Austrian insurance firms to join an international effort to make payments on policies dating back to the war years.
He said the United States is monitoring developments in Austria closely to ensure that the Austrian government lives up to its promises.
“We look at what the Austrian government does, as well as what it says,” Eizenstat said. “One important benchmark in this regard is how this government will deal with unresolved Holocaust issues.”
Austria has made clear that it wants to compensate Holocaust-era slave and forced laborers. But it has been far less forthcoming when it comes to paying for property looted from Jews under the Nazis’ so-called Aryanization program.
Jewish groups and lawyers representing Holocaust survivors have responded to what they view as Austrian intransigence with volleys of criticism.
Last Friday, Eizenstat joined the fray with his call for Austria to begin resolving claims regarding Jewish-owned property looted by the Nazis.
The Claims Conference, which has been spearheading efforts to get Austria to address the property restitution issue, was pleased to see the United States weighing in on the topic.
“We welcome Eizenstat’s comments,” said Gideon Taylor, the group’s executive vice president. “We were very much concerned by the statements coming out of Austria on the restitution issue.”
While in Vienna this week, Eizenstat was scheduled to meet with Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Maria Schaumayer, the Austrian official in charge of slave labor restitution.
During two days of meetings, which will also include representatives from countries including Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Austria will try to reach agreement on a compensation package for slave and forced laborers.
Eizenstat was not optimistic that this week’s discussions would be sufficient.
“I doubt that there will be a full agreement,” he said. “We still have many issues to resolve.”