Austrian, German Funds Pay Out, but Some Jews May Have to Wait

Thousands of former Nazi-era slave and forced laborers have begun to receive payments from Austrian and German compensation funds.

But some Jewish survivors may have to wait a bit longer for their money because of confusion over which fund will pay them.

Payments totaling about $36 million began to go out last week to some 20,000 former slave and forced laborers — most of them non-Jews — from an approximately $400 million fund created by the Austrian government and Austrian industry.

But Jews who survived slave labor in concentration camps in Austria are not eligible for monies from the Austrian fund, and must apply instead to the $4.7 billion German compensation fund, which began making payments this week.

This has led to some confusion among survivors, according to Erika Jakubovits, executive director of the presidium of the Jewish Community of Austria.

“When it comes to people who have been in concentration camps, Germany is responsible for payment,” said Jakubovits. “We are not very happy, because people think they have to apply here and then their papers are sent to Germany.”

Claims forwarded to Germany involve survivors of such concentration camps as Mauthausen and satellite camps of Dachau, which were located on Austrian soil.

“It’s like hitting your head against a wall,” said Bernard Mueller, who has been working for 20 years to receive compensation for his slave labor.

An additional complication are the funds’ different deadlines for applicants.

The Austrian deadline is Nov. 27, 2002.

The German deadline was to expire in August, but the German compensation foundation is planning to extend this to the end of this year, according to Karen Heilig, director of international relations for the New York-based Claims Conference.

Under the terms of an agreement reached in March 2000, some 240,000 slave laborers — about 140,000 of whom are Jewish — would receive up to $7,500 each from the German fund. More than 1 million forced laborers — mostly non- Jews — would get up to $2,500 each.

Of the estimated 150,000 survivors eligible for payments from Austria, fewer than 10,000 are Jewish, said Heilig.

“The main Jewish beneficiaries” are Hungarian Jews “brought over by the Germans to build fortifications when the Germans were retreating in 1944,” she said.

About 6,000 live in Hungary and the rest live in Israel, the United States, France, Australia and other countries.

Their payments will be administered by the Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Hungary.

The final obstacle to the payments from the Austrian fund came July 31, when Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel formally released the funds after U.S. Judge Shirley Wohl Kram dismissed the last class-action suits against Austria.

Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, said he is pleased that “the payments are starting, even though most of them will be for non-Jews.”

The first 1,200 payments from the Austrian fund were made early last week. A further 5,000 transfers were expected to be made this week to individuals in about 20 countries worldwide, and to three organizations responsible for disseminating the moneys to survivors in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine.

In all, only 44 people are slated to receive the highest compensation level of about $7,000. These are people who were forced to work in Austrian facilities similar to concentration camps.

Most of the Austrian cases involve agricultural workers.

Some 10,000 people in this category will receive $1,300 each. Nearly 9,000 former industrial workers will receive $2,300 each. Finally, 28 battered women and people who suffered through medical experiments will receive $350.

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