VIENNA (Mar. 27)
Austrian Jews have expressed serious misgivings about a decision by Parliament to have the government pay token sums to victims of persecution and former resistance fighters in Austria.
Unlike West Germany, Austria has never paid reparations to Nazi victims for their suffering or loss of property. But Parliament, after a stormy session last Wednesday night, adopted a bill to appropriate $4.2 million as an “Ehrengabe” (gift of honor).
It calls for the one-time payment of amounts ranging from $210 to $420 to persons who hold either official documents that they were Nazi victims or orders of merit in connection with the liberation of Austria from Nazi rule. It is admittedly a symbolic gesture.
Of the 5,000 to 10,000 persons who would be eligible, only a few hundred are Jews. Paul Grosz, president of the Jewish community of Austria, said he was repeatedly approached by members of the community who said they would not accept the ridiculously low sum in order to ease the conscience of the state.
Grosz also expressed concern that the payments, however small, to even a negligible number of Jews, would feed popular anti-Jewish feelings, coming at a time of severe budgetary constraints that have forced cuts in many social programs.
The measure was backed by the governing coalition of the Socialist Party and the conservative People’s Party.
It also gained support of the opposition Green Party, though the leader of the Green’s parliamentary faction, Freda Meissner-Blau, said she could only “blush with shame” at the beggarly sums.
The “Ehrengabe” originally had been demanded by several organizations for former concentration camp inmates, some of whose members live in poverty. The bill was offered by two government ministers, Alfred Dallinger, who is responsible for social affairs, and Ferdinand Lacina, the finance minister.
The Jewish community and the Greens suggested that money be put into a fund to help the needy, who would welcome even the small sums. Some former resistance fighters and several prominent Jews indicated they would accept the money and turn it over to charity. It is also possible that a private fund will be established to compensate Nazi victims.
In New York, the Committee for Jewish Claims on Austria issued a statement declaring that the decision “demeans the memory of those who perished and woefully ignores the needs of the aged Jewish Nazi victims from Austria.”
Rabbi Israel Miller, the group’s president, said, “The Austrian Parliament should be fully aware of the fate which has befallen the 180,000 Jews who resided in Austria on the day of the Anschluss. Tens of thousands perished. Those who emigrated were stripped of their possessions.”
Parliament enacted the measure during the week of the 50th anniversary of the Anchluss, the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich.
In an almost bizarre turn, Joerg Haider of the center-right Freedom Party offered an amendment to include victims of “retaliation” by partisans. It would have meant paying money to former Nazis. The amendment was defeated.