WJC Proposes New Austrian Claims Partner


After weeks of refusing to negotiate Holocaust claims with an Austrian government that includes the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, a Jewish leader has proposed a solution: negotiate with the Austrian National Fund, a body established by Austria’s parliament to pay compensation to as many as 30,000 victims of Nazi persecution.

"We should not allow Holocaust survivors to suffer just because we don’t want to support [this government]," said Israel Singer, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress. "We must find a way in which Austria can live up to its responsibilities in an honorable manner. … This is the responsibility of the nation of Austria; it makes no difference who is in charge."

He said the Austrian National Fund, established by parliament in June 1995 to make a one-time payment of about $7,000 "for the victims of National Socialism," might be a way to deal with this issue. The World Jewish Restitution Organization is to meet in Jerusalem late this week to discuss that proposal.

"My position is not to deal with the government of Austria but to deal with Austria," Singer said by phone from Jerusalem.

He noted that Austria has never compensated the Jews whose apartments (75,000 of them) were seized during the Holocaust. Nor have Jews been compensated for the 45,000 businesses they owned that were Aryanized or the bank accounts that have sat dormant.

"There is no reason why companies shouldn’t pay," said Singer, who noted that a week ago he obtained a newly declassified document written in 1953 for the U.S. State Department estimating that in 1938 Austria held $10 billion in assets (in today’s valuation) looted during the Holocaust from heirless Jews.These were assets now held by the Austrian government and its people and they have never been restituted, said Singer.

"The report is only on heirless Jewish property; it is difficult to say how much property there is altogether," he said. "We shall deal with this question."

The document contains a list of Aryanized property that includes 30,000 houses, 10,000 commercial enterprises, 5,000 handicraft enterprises, 1,500 industries, 200 export businesses, 1,000 transportation enterprises, 80 banks and 17,000 liquidated firms.

On another matter, Singer said he has "every reason to believe [the Swiss government] will cooperate" with Brooklyn Federal Judge Edward Korman and agree to publish the names of 26,000 Jewish Holocaust victims whose dormant accounts still sit in Swiss banks.

On Tuesday, Korman issued an order delaying the date by which he must approve the Swiss banks’ $1.25 billion settlement with Holocaust survivors and their heirs until after March 27, the date Swiss authorities have promised to announce their decision about the publication.

Korman noted that Paul Volcker, who headed the team that audited Swiss banks looking for dormant Holocaust-era accounts, had recommended last December that the names be published. In addition, he asked that a central archive be created listing data on 4.1 million accounts. Korman agreed with that suggestion too, and said that until both proposals were agreed to by the Swiss, "I am unable to make a ruling" in the case.