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Protests Erupt After Far-rightist Jew Blasts Czechs on Shoah Compensation

January 30, 2002
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A far-right Jewish politician in Austria is drawing a storm of protest for saying the Czech government is not doing enough to compensate Holocaust victims.

Peter Sichrovsky, a member of Austria’s Freedom Party, said many Czech Jews are still fighting for their rights after being refused compensation for decades by previous Czech governments.

He called on Prague to “reconsider the consequences of racial persecution” during the war and provide “sufficient” compensation.

The statement stung the Czech government, which has been embroiled in a war of words with Austria since Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman described the former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Jorg Haider, earlier this month as a “pro-Nazi politician.”

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky described Sichrovsky’s statement as “an outrageous lie.”

Rychetsky said that in 1998 the Czech government established a special commission made up of government officials and Jewish representatives to mitigate “property injustices.” That commission investigated the fate of Holocaust-era assets, including art, real estate and insurance policies.

Rychetsky, who chairs the commission, also highlighted the government’s role in establishing an $8 million endowment fund designed to compensate and support Holocaust victims.

Czech Jewish leaders agree with Rychetsky.

Jan Munk, president of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, said Sichrovsky’s comments were “ridiculous” and said he is misinformed.

“What Sichrovsky says is not true,” Munk said. “In general, the restitution process in the Czech Republic has been successful. It has been running for about seven years now. All property that it has been possible to return has either been returned or could still be claimed,” Munk said.

Sichrovsky is unrepentant. He argued that his own family had suffered over the years from a lack of action by the Czechs.

He said his mother, who is from Prague, “fought for 40 years to get anything back, and never got so much as a silver spoon. There are so many families who suffered a similar fate, and I think the Czech government must do more on restitution,” he said.

But one senior Czech Jewish official said Sichrovsky’s affiliation with the Freedom Party, which is known for its xenophobia and anti-Semitism, makes it difficult to honor his criticism.

“It is hard to take Sichrovsky’s statements seriously,” said the official, who did not wish to be named, “when he is a member of a party that is not noted for its tolerant views.”

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