Austrian Holocaust survivors battle to reopen compensation claim | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.08.2011
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Austrian Holocaust survivors battle to reopen compensation claim

A group of Austrian-born Holocaust survivors have asked Vienna to reopen negotiations on compensation for property looted during the Holocaust. The Israel-based group says its members are still owed billions of euros.

An Israeli flag and Holocaust survivors

Holocaust survivors say Austria hasn't done enough

Adolf Hitler's march into Vienna in 1938 - celebrated by many Austrians - was the start of a nightmare for the city's 200,000 Jews. Many were evicted from their homes and their property confiscated before they were sent to die in concentration camps.

For decades, Holocaust survivors and their descendants have battled for restitution or compensation. In 2001, the Austrian government acknowledged its previous efforts had not been adequate and signed the Washington Agreement, granting 146 million euros ($210 million) to claimants.

But that's a fraction of what they're owed, says Martha Raviv, an attorney and Israeli spokesperson for the survivors' group. Raviv's father was murdered in Buchenwald and she spent three months in Bergen-Belsen with her mother. She says the state of Austria has profited from stolen Jewish property.

"Most of the people in the government know full well that the sum which was paid to us is ridiculous and Austria itself is in a wonderful economic state, and got richer and richer from the assets of the Jews from the time of the Holocaust," Raviv told Deutsche Welle.

Adequate compensation not possible

inmates of the Buchenwald concentration camp

Some 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust

Some historians estimate the value of confiscated property at over $10 billion (6.9 billion euros). But Jewish groups - mainly in the United States and Austria - agreed with the government that what became known as the Settlement Fund would distribute just 146 million euros. Another condition of the agreement was an end to class action law suits against Austria in US courts.

Ursula Kriebaum, a professor of International Law at the University of Vienna, helped draft that agreement.

"The participants were determined to secure a final and global resolution and a closure concerning all Austrian Jewish properties, assets and interests that were seized, liquidated or rendered defunct during the national socialist era and in its aftermath," Kriebaum told Deutsche Welle.

Austria has made other efforts to compensate for the crimes of the Holocaust - including a national fund which makes cash payments to individuals for their suffering.

But Raviv says she's hoping the Israeli government will now get involved and put pressure on Austria to reopen the compensation agreement. The alternative is for her group to pursue their case through the courts, which she acknowledged would be a huge expense.

Kriebaum insists there can never be adequate compensation.

"Justice 50 years later - that's pretty difficult. What everyone wanted to achieve was some measure of justice - actually we strove to get the best measure of justice you can do 50 years later."

There has been no official comment from the Austrian government. However, the leader of the Green Party has written to the Israeli group saying it was clear that sums paid to survivors would barely cover property damages.

Author: Kerry Skyring, Vienna / smh
Editor: Susan Houlton

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