In 2001, Austria created the General Settlement Fund to compensate Holocaust victims who were robbed of businesses, property, bank accounts and insurance policies during the Nazi era, when they country was annexed to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. Payments were delayed, however, because Austria refused to make distributions so long as legal actions against Austria were proceeding in the United States.
In November 2005, the last case was dismissed by a New York court and the Austrian government subsequently began to mail letters to some of the 19,300 Holocaust survivors who applied for compensation payments. The letters informed the first 100 people how much they would receive after signing a waiver releasing Austria from further responsibility. Survivors are eligible for up to $2 million for liquidated businesses, looted bank accounts, unpaid insurance policies and other assets.
Under the agreement, victims of Nazi persecution alo have an opportunity to reclaim property confiscated by the Nazis that is now controlled by the Austrian government. Only a handful of claims have been resolved so far, and 80 are pending.
In addition, the Austrian government and the provincial governments agreed to provide $40 million to support Austrian Jewish institutions.
The government of Austria and a number of Austrian companies pledged to pay $210 million to endow the fund once all court cases against Austria relating to the Holocaust were resolved. According to Stuart Eizenstat, President Clinton's special representative on Holocaust-era issues, the feeling during negotiations with the Austrians was that “the traditional trial system never would have worked in the victims' lifetime.” Eizenstat noted that lawyers who opposed a non-trial settlement delayed the settlement and, during that time, the number of Austrian survivors declined from 21,000 to 13,000.
According to Eizenstat a three-person claims committee created in 2001 reached decisions on 2,700 cases by mid-December, and is expected to resolve the remaining claims by the spring of 2007.
Sources: Jerusalem Post, (December 15, 2005); Stuart Eizenstat, “Austria Comes to Terms With Its Past,” Forward, (December 16, 2005)