Austrian Jewish historian begins jail term for restitution fraud


(JTA) — Stephan Templ, an Austrian Jewish historian who wrote a book critical of Vienna’s post-Holocaust handling of Jewish property, began serving a one-year prison term for restitution fraud.

Templ, 55, reported on Monday to a Vienna prison accompanied by a handful of friends and supporters, including his lawyer, the human rights attorney Robert Amsterdam, who is handling Templ’s case pro bono.

The Austrian Supreme Court sentenced Templ last year to one year in jail for defrauding the Republic of Austria by omitting the name of a relative from an application for restitution he filled out for his mother. His defense was based on the absence of a law requiring applicants to list all relatives, and the argument that Austria could not have been the victim of his fraud as it never legally owned the property it returned. But his arguments were overruled.

The Anti-Defamation League and 75 Holocaust scholars have implored Austrian authorities to avoid jailing Templ, noting the decision to do so seems connected to his 2001 book, “Our Vienna,” in which he criticized the country’s perceived failures to offer restitution for property stolen from Jews by Austrians and Germans during World War II.

“To stand here in front of this jail in Austria, 2015, to see a Jew persecuted in this way is for me not only a shame as a lawyer, but it’s a shame as a member of the international community,” Amsterdam said Monday.

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