(JTA) — For the first time in more than 20 years, the Austrian government has agreed to increase its Holocaust restitution payments, giving every living Austrian Holocaust survivor an additional direct compensation payment of approximately 5,000 euros ($5,290) each in 2023.
The decision, which will affect an estimated 2,500 survivors living worldwide, followed extensive deliberations between the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the Austrian Ministry of Finance. The total payout equals 12.5 million euros (about $13.23 million), and survivors who are determined to have special needs will be eligible for a second payment of about the same amount this year, along with additional annual payments.
Most Austrian survivors are living in the United States and Israel, but some also call Great Britain, Australia, Canada, South America and several Western European countries home. The Claims Conference already gives certain subsets of survivors monthly pension payments.
The organization made clear that this decision was made well before the start of the Israel-Hamas war and is not linked timing-wise to the conflict.
Before World War II, Austria was home to about 192,000 Jews, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. By 1939, about 135,000 Jews had fled Austria, which in 1938 was annexed by Nazi Germany. Approximately 65,000 Jews of Austrian origin were murdered in the Holocaust.
Gideon Taylor, president of the Claims Conference, called the decision “a substantial breakthrough with the Austrian government.” The payments will be administered through the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism.
“Austrian Holocaust survivors living globally deserve this recognition,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Claims Conference, in a press statement. While survivors from Austria have received support over the years through the Claims Conference for home care and other welfare services, the additional payments “will go a long way for some of the more vulnerable in that waning population,” he added.
Claims Conference special negotiator Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat called the additional payment a “gesture of responsibility” that acknowledges the suffering of those robbed of home and family.
In addition to the new payments, the Austrian Holocaust Survivors Emergency Assistance Program has been doubled to 3 million euros for 2024. The funds are distributed via social welfare agencies to eligible Austrian survivors in the form of emergency grants to cover medical needs, eviction prevention and other urgent short-term expenses.