BERLIN, Sept. 8 (JTA) — Austrian Holocaust survivors will receive supplementary compensation payments under a new agreement announced by the Austrian National Fund. The accord, announced Wednesday in Vienna, will provide Austrian victims of Nazi persecution $1,200 for confiscated rental apartments, household belongings and personal items. The disbursements come in addition to $7,000 payments already released to eligible survivors by the fund. The fund was established in 1995 after negotiations with the Claims Conference and represents some 18,000 survivors. “It is a very good gesture to make sure that at least some of the survivors get this money while they are still alive,” Ariel Muzicant, head of the Jewish community of Austria, told JTA in a telephone interview. “But it is not the end of the day,” added Muzicant, who represents Austrian Jewry at the national fund. Another fund for survivors, The General Settlement Fund, was established in January 2001 to further compensate Austrian survivors and their heirs for real estate, liquidated businesses, bank accounts, securities, mortgages, insurance policies, personal effects and the loss of education and jobs. But payments from the General Settlement Fund have been held up by two ongoing U.S. lawsuits against Austrian businesses. “We don’t have legal closure, and I guess it will take another year and a half” before that’s reached, Muzicant said. Still, the Claims Conference, citing the age of survivors, has been pushing the General Settlement Fund to provide advance payments of $3,000. In a statement, the Claims Conference said Wednesday’s announcement by the national fund followed its pressure for some kind of advance. Israel Singer, president of the Claims Conference, said in a statement that he welcomed Wednesday’s “gesture by Austria to Jewish victims of Nazism. “However, we believe it is essential that Austria make advance payments now from the General Settlement Fund, due to the catastrophic mortality rate among Austrian survivors,” he said. An average of two Austrian survivors are dying each day, said Moshe Jahoda, representative of the Claims Conference in Austria and Germany. Some 2,000 survivors have died since the General Settlement Fund agreement was signed. “An Austrian Jew who was 20 at the time of the Anschluss is 86 today,” Jahoda said in a statement. These survivors are a “remnant of a once-strong community. They deserve this symbolic payment in their lifetimes.” Gideon Taylor, the Claims Conference’s executive vice president, said that a General Settlement Fund advance payment of $3,000 would “ensure that ongoing legal issues, which were never contemplated when this agreement was reached in 2001, do not completely prevent Austrian survivors from seeing a measure of justice in their lifetimes.” Muzicant said that only those who qualified for the first payments from the national fund are eligible for the supplements announced Wednesday, together with the heirs of survivors who applied and qualified but have since passed away.
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Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.