The Austrian Government has decided to initiate negotiations with major Jewish organizations on restitution to Austrian Jewish victims of Nazism, leading members of the Government confirmed today to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. They indicated that the talks would start on technical levels, to be taken over later by Cabinet representatives.
Chancellor Leopold Figl, Vice-Chancellor Adolf Schaerf and Foreign Minister Karl Gruber, who received the Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent, outlined their views on the reparations issue. They said talks would be started with representatives of the American Jewish Committee, Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Agency and World Jewish Congress. At a later date, representatives of the Austrian Jewish communities will be brought in.
Chancellor Figl said he expected the preliminary talks to start in Vienna sometime in October and Foreign Minister Gruber told the JTA that invitations to the Jewish organizations had already gone out from his office.
The views expressed by the three top Government leaders in separate interviews made it clear that there was no unanimity in the Cabinet on the question. While Chancellor Figl is in favor of reparations payment to the Jews, and is supported in this by Dr. Gruber, Dr. Schaerf, the strong man of the Social Democratic Party, does not support him in this.
AUSTRIA NOT OPPOSED TO REPARATIONS, CHANCELLOR SAYS
In a written statement handed the JTA during the interview, Chancellor Figl stressed that Austria did not oppose payment of reparations to Jews and asserted that as far as possible under present laws, Austrian Jews had received back their houses, businesses and the positions they had held in Government offices during the pre-Nazi period.
“We know of no discrimination,” Chancellor Figl insisted. “However, many buildings are still occupied by Allied occupation forces and cannot be returned to their former owners.”
The Government chief said that “our primary concern is to maintain our economy. We then want to establish what the Jewish claims amount to, whether our economy permits having this claim satisfied and within what period of time it can be satisfied.
“The Government decided as a first step in this direction to have ministry officials confer with representatives of Jewry and to establish proposals. Our Government could hardly have been expected to consider requests for reparations when four Jewish organizations came to us each with different proposals and demands. However, now these organizations have united, it has become possible that representatives of these organizations meet with officials of our ministries and work out a program to be presented to the Cabinet.
“The Cabinet,” Dr. Figl declared, “will definitely not disregard the opinions of the Jewish organizations. I believe that now a proper way will be found. I wish to draw attention to the fact that it was easier for the German Government to settle the Jewish reparations problem because the entire income from the special Nazi taxes imposed on the Jews has remained in Germany.”
Dr. Figl said that Austria had not received the property taken from the Jews but nevertheless had displayed its good-will by concluding a credit agreement with Israel “which we could not easily afford.” He described this as a sacrifice to establish good relations with Israel.
He urged the Jewish organizations to have confidence and reminded them that he had been a Nazi prisoner in Dachau along with the present leader of the Vienna Jewish community. He said that Austria did not wish to enrich itself at the expense of others but said “we can only return property which is still available, like businesses, real estate and dwellings, but no money or jewelry which disappeared.”
He stressed the need for disposition of heirless property, without other organizations rising later to claim the same property and warmly welcomed the uniting of the four Jewish bodies to deal with the problem.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.