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Nazi Camp Labor Used in Liechtenstein

DW Staff (jb)April 14, 2005

A report released on Wednesday cleared Liechtenstein of serving as a haven for stolen Nazi goods but found fault with the royal family for using Nazi forced labor.

The fairy tale principality with a not-so-enchanted pastImage: AP

An official investigation into Liechtenstein's World War II history released on Wednesday has found that forced labor from a Nazi concentration camp worked on estates owned by the royal family in Nazi-occupied Austria at the time.

The report, by six historians from Austria, Israel, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, cleared the tiny Alpine principality of serving as a refuge for looted gold or Jewish assets.

The probe was commissioned by Liechtenstein's government in 2001 after the World Jewish Congress claimed the principality became a haven for money and works of art plundered by the Nazis.

Labor "hired out"

Hans-Adam von Liechtenstein
Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein raises his glass during a National Day gathering in the garden of Vaduz Castle, Aug.15, 1998. Hans-Adam became the 13th Ruling Prince of Liechtenstein in November 1989 upon the death of his father Franz Josef II, who kept the principality out of Adolf Hitler's clutches and transformed the impoverished farming nation into a wealthy industrialized one.Image: AP

Like Switzerland, Liechtenstein was neutral at the time of the war, and spared from invasion by Nazi Germany.

The report said that Jewish inmates from the Strasshof concentration camp near Vienna -- who were "hired out" by Nazi Germany's feared SS corps to local firms -- were used as forced labor on three agricultural estates in Austria owned by the royal family.

"The responsibility for the forced labor in this case lies with the managers of these properties and ultimately with the princes of Liechtenstein, who, as far as can be established, did not know about the forced labor by camp prisoners, but were the owners," the historians concluded.

Five million Swiss Francs

The camp workers were used on the estates from July 1944 to the end of the war.

Strasshoff housed about 20,000 Jews, mainly deported from Hungary in 1944. Most of them survived after SS commander Adolf Eichmann, who was later tried and sentenced to death in Israel for war crimes, was paid five million Swiss francs for their survival, according to Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

Liechtenstein's royal family also bought property from Jewish owners in Nazi-annexed Austria and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, notably around its Elbemuehl paper factory, the report said.

No works of art plundered by the Nazis were traced in collections in Liechtenstein, the report said, noting there were few collectors or galleries there at the time -- although the country's Postmuseum was run by a renowned German stamp collector with Nazi party affiliations.

But some of the 270 works of art or furniture bought by the royal family between 1938 and 1945 came from merchants who also dealt in looted goods, and were of "problematic origin" the government said.

Liechtenstein banks not involved

The historians revealed that a valuable desk seized from a Jewish family found its way into the hands of reigning Prince Franz-Joseph II after the merchant in the southern German city of Munich who sold it lied about its real origin.

The historians found only one dormant account in the principality's two banks at the time, belonging to a Jewish man who fled Nazi persecution in 1938 and died in Jerusalem in 1949.

Liechtenstein's government said the deposit, which was adjusted to reflect its present value, was returned to a legal heir of the account holder. The amount was not revealed.

"Liechtenstein banks were not involved in the gold trade with the Third Reich," the report added.

One of the richest royal families

Liechtenstein's royal family, which is regarded as one of the richest in the world, originally came from Austria but transferred its official residence from Austria to the principality's capital, Vaduz, in 1938.

The principality's government said on Wednesday that the state was "conscious of its responsibility for this chapter of its history."

"We will not only look back, but also look forward and will do everything in our power to ensure that the events during the second World War and in particular the Holocaust cannot be repeated in any way," Prime Minister Otmar Hasler told AFP.