U.S., France secure $60 million for survivors of rail deportations


The United States and France have tentatively arrived at a $60 million lump sum agreement to settle claims by survivors deported to Nazi camps via the French rail system.

The agreement, announced Friday in a conference call with reporters by Stuart Eizenstat, the State Department’s envoy on Holocaust compensation issues, will be signed Monday, but still needs to be ratified by the French legislature.

The SNCF, which is owned by the French government, transported Jews to the death camps during the Holocaust.

The agreement redresses longstanding claims by survivors who were otherwise unable to obtain reparations limited to French nationals through the French pension system.

The agreement will guarantee France “and its instrumentalities” like SNCF “legal peace,” or freedom from legal actions. SNCF has until now used diplomatic immunities to resist lawsuits brought by American survivors.

The French embassy in Washington said in an email to JTA that the agreement reflected the closeness of U.S.-French ties and pledged that those seeking compensation would be unburdened by bureaucracy.

“Both sides will do everything possible to ensure that compensation is paid as quickly as possible and with as few formalities as possible,” a spokesman said.

The fund, with moneys from France but administered by the U.S. government, will be available to non-French nationals who are citizens of the United States and any other country that does not have a bilateral reparations agreement with France. (Belgium, Poland, Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are subject to such agreements.)

Funds will also be available to their surviving spouses, and – in what Eizenstat said was unprecedented in the history of reparations – to the estates of survivors.

A fact sheet estimated that “several thousand” claims will be eligible. It said that survivors will likely be entitled to over $100,000 each, their widowed spouses to amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars and estates would be assessed according to how long the survivor lived after the war; because it is a pension plan, the longer one survived, the more the estate would receive.

Under the agreement, SNCF, separately, will re-issue a statement of “sorrow and regret” for its role in the deportations, and will contribute $4 million to Holocaust education and commemoration in the United States and in France and Israel, Eizenstat said.

Additionally, the U.S. government will issue guidelines to people who were orphaned by the deportations to apply for separate compensation available to them under French laws since 2000.

Lawyers for survivors who have attempted to bring SNCF to court would not comment until after a Friday afternoon briefing with Eizenstat.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) had earlier this year introduced legislation that would have granted courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits against SNCF. Maloney in a statement welcomed Eizenstat’s deal, although she did not say whether she would withdraw the legislation.

“This is a breakthrough in a decades-long struggle for justice waged by Holocaust survivors who were brought to death camps on SNCF trains hired by the Nazis,” she said. “This settlement will deliver fair compensation to these victims and to the loved ones of those who did not live to see this deal finalized.” Ros-Lehtinen did not return a request for comment.

It is not clear yet how the deal would affect bills under consideration in a number of state legislatures that would ban any dealings with SNCF, a major exporter of rail cars, until it agreed to address lawsuits.

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director and himself a Holocaust survivor, welcomed the agreement.

“There is no amount of money that could ever make up for the horrific injustice done to these victims and their families,” he said in a statement. “But agreements like this provide some modest redress, an important recognition of their pain, and acknowledge the responsibility of governments and institutions to leave no stone unturned in seeking every possible measure of justice for Holocaust victims.”

 

Kenneth Feinberg: The 9/11 mediator who listens


When massive tragedy strikes in the United States, when half a dozen or a score or thousands of people are killed in a single incident, when disaster hits a region, Kenneth Feinberg often gets a call.

The Washington attorney is perhaps best known for his work as the administrator of the fund that paid restitution to the families of 9/11 victims and the one that compensated individuals and businesses harmed by the BP Oil spill in 2010, but his phone rings on all sorts of unhappy occasions, most recently in the wake of the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh temple in August.

They call Feinberg because he has made a career in mediation, dealing with particularly complicated situations involving death, environmental disaster and financial upheaval. They call him because he’s been called “Solomonic” on more than a few occasions — a label that Feinberg rejects — and because he has demonstrated an ability to exercise and implement good, fair judgments.

But as Jews around the world, Feinberg included, prepare for another season of holidays centered on the theme of judgment, it’s notable that a major element of Feinberg’s process is something deceptively simple: He listens.

“When you have face-to-face meetings, you give victims an opportunity to vent, and they welcome that opportunity to vent,” Feinberg said, speaking to the Journal by phone from his Washington, D.C., office in August. “I find that these one-on-one meetings are very important in convincing claimants in grief about the bona fides of the program that you’re trying to run.”

Feinberg was referring to the more than 900 meetings he had in the aftermath of 9/11 with families of victims, a process he repeated in administering a much smaller fund compensating the victims injured and families of victims killed in the 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech. In both cases, Feinberg remembered that most of the people who chose to meet with him did not talk about dollars and cents, but came to tell stories, sometimes with photo albums and mementos in hand, “in order to validate — on the record, in writing, face-to-face — the memory, the good works of a lost loved one.”

In compensating individuals in the wake of tragedy, Feinberg has found the meetings to be essential, because they show that somebody is listening.

“There is an individual — not a bureaucratic device, but there is an actual human being listening to what I have to say about my dead wife or husband or brother or sister, son or daughter,” he said.

Individual meetings aren’t always possible, particularly when dealing with large numbers of claimants who have all suffered different kinds of damages, as Feinberg did when he administered the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which paid out more than $6.14 billion from BP to more than 500,000 claimants from all 50 states and 38 foreign countries.

But in many instances, direct listening in face-to-face meetings can have a strategic purpose, as well. In his role as the U.S. Treasury Department’s “pay czar,” tasked with setting the compensation of 175 high-ranking executives at the largest of the financial firms bailed out by the American taxpayers in 2009, Feinberg heard petitions from CEOs, CFOs and their lawyers.

That role was a distinct reversal for Feinberg. “There I was fixing the compensation of alleged, not victims, but perpetrators, who had caused the 2009 financial meltdown,” Feinberg said.

Which is why, as he wrote in his book “Who Gets What: Fair Compensation After Tragedy and Financial Upheaval,” published by Public Affairs earlier this year, one of the ground rules Feinberg set for the meetings with the executives of bailed-out companies was that they had to take place in Washington, D.C.

The Tribute in Light is illuminated marking the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, on Sept. 10. Photo by REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

“As an experienced mediator, I knew the importance of conducting meetings in the most effective venue,” Feinberg wrote. The “lavish and imposing” Treasury Building fit his aim perfectly, making immediately clear to the corporate officials “that they were up against a formidable negotiating partner — the federal government.”

In their own ways, the meetings Feinberg had with the companies’ officials didn’t focus on money — or at least not the immediate exchange value of money.

As the “special master” of an office in the Treasury Department overseeing executive compensation, Feinberg and his staff were dictating to these seven companies the exact amount they could pay their top employees. The goal was to balance the interests of the executives and the firms, who wanted to be able to compete on hiring with other corporations, against those of the taxpayers and congress, who had loaned these companies billions of dollars and wanted that money repaid as quickly as possible and in full but who also wouldn’t tolerate excessively lavish compensation.

In the meetings with executives, Feinberg said that the conversations were never about money or material gain — “I need money to buy another summer home, I need money to send my kinds to private school” — but instead were about compensation as a “litmus test of self-worth or integrity or contribution to society.”

“ ‘Look, Mr. Feinberg,’ ” Feinberg said, recalling the executives’ emotional pleas, “ ‘what you’re paying me demeans my value to society, it demeans my value to the community, to my family. You are getting very personal; you are reducing my compensation, thereby diminishing my overall self worth.’ ”

Feinberg’s ultimate decisions were, in his words, “very cold and calculating.”

“I looked at statistics governing compensation — what is a CFO worth, or a CEO worth — studied the competitive pay scale of others similarly situated, looked at what incentives should be incorporated into a compensation package, and calculated the actual awards,” he said.

In administering the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund — which Feinberg said is still the most challenging assignment he’s ever faced — Feinberg’s meetings were very different. They took place all over the country, often in the offices of law firms. And while the meetings were essential to convincing some of the families of victims (particularly those of the wealthier victims) to join the fund and not litigate their claims in court, it’s clear that the emotional tenor made them difficult for Feinberg.

“Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t remain dispassionate,” he said. “You try and … limit the impact of that emotion, but you cannot help but be affected by the death and tragedy involved.”

And, Feinberg learned, people react differently — unpredictably, even — to tragedy. The group meetings he held for victims’ families in California, Feinberg said, were “very touchy-feely,” particularly in contrast to the meetings he’d held in New York and Virginia.

“Everybody wanted to hold hands and pray collectively and to reinforce each other,” Feinberg recalled.

And if half of the families of 9/11 victims decided that the tragedy had “ended, once and for all, any belief they may have had in God or religion or an afterlife,” the other half, Feinberg said, told him that “the tragedies reinforced their religion and their beliefs.”

“Do not attempt to predict human nature,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg doesn’t keep in touch with the families of victims, nor does he have a particular way of commemorating the anniversary of 9/11. This year, on the 11th anniversary of the attacks, Feinberg was scheduled to speak at a conference organized by an insurance group in Canada.

On Rosh Hashanah, Feinberg said, he would be thinking about the future, not the past.

“I think about the year to come, in hopes that I and my family can enjoy health and happiness,” Feinberg said. “And on Yom Kippur, I sort of muse and reflect on the year gone by and what I could’ve done differently, or better.”

Feinberg described himself as “a believer,” so it seemed fair to ask him whether he feels that there is a listener to his prayers.

“I don’t put it in those terms, is someone listening,” Feinberg replied. “I’m hoping that — by raising the level of thought to a conscious level, so that I’m actually reflecting on the past and the future — I’m listening. And I think that’s what’s important.”

Holocaust-era property database reaches 2 million records


A searchable database of Holocaust-era property records has reached more than two million records.

Project HEART-Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce, an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel in cooperation with the government of Israel, says it is the largest publicly available single-source database of lost Jewish property assets from the Holocaust era.

The online database was unveiled last May with 500,000 records. The records have been made available to help Jewish families identify personal property confiscated by the Nazis and to help victims seek restitution, according to the project.

The records include property addresses, lists of homeowners, professions, lists of known confiscated properties, business directories, insurance policies and other archival information.

“The public’s response to the Project HEART database has been exceptional,” said Project HEART director Anya Verkhovskaya. “Now that the database contains more than 2 million records, we are receiving over 500,000 hits each week, showing the tremendous need that Project HEART is filling.”

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said, “We remain committed to achieving restitution for those whose plight has been ignored for too long. A searchable online database of 2 million property records allows us to give a piece of stolen history back to the Jewish people.”

Individuals can access the database on the Project HEART website at www.heartwebsite.org.

Holocaust survivors in L.A. are still struggling


Joshua “Joe” Knobler used to go salsa dancing three times a week. He used to play cards with the guys every day. Now, 88, with both his health and finances failing, he sits home all day in his drab one-room apartment in Valley Village watching television.

“Television is my life,” he said.

A Holocaust survivor who spent five years in Buchenwald, Knobler was married and divorced twice; both spouses are now deceased, and he is estranged from his children. He leaves his apartment door open all day, but no one stops by to say hello.

Knobler says he doesn’t have enough money each month to buy food, get his clothes cleaned or purchase more than a single $5 can of bug spray to fight the cockroaches infesting his apartment.

Knobler used to make a decent living as a tailor. His industrial Singer sewing machine sits in the corner of his one-room apartment, now overcrowded with a queen-size bed, a hospital bed, a dresser and a couch. He explains that the sewing machine is broken; he can’t afford a new needle.

He receives $939 in SSI (Supplemental Security Income) each month and pays $639 in rent. Of the $300 remaining, he spends $30 for the telephone, $60 for cable television and another $30 for medication, mostly for pain pills. He’s had two back surgeries, one only 10 months ago, and lives with debilitating chronic pain. He has $2.44 in the bank.

“I don’t get from nobody,” he said.

But that’s not exactly true; Knobler has been a Jewish Family Service (JFS) client for the past 10 years, part of the Survivors of the Holocaust Program. He receives eight hours a week in home care services, a monthly $100 Ralphs gift card and $50 a month in taxi vouchers. Additionally, a bag of groceries from SOVA is delivered to his apartment once a month.

Knobler, in fact, receives $2,500 a year in support services, an amount that has been capped for all indigent Holocaust survivors by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which provides $914,000 to JFS in Los Angeles annually to assist needy survivors.

But Knobler has actually received $5,300 in services already this year, thanks to two funds specifically earmarked for emergencies and other essentials for the estimated 3,000 poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors in Los Angeles.

For Knobler, these additional expenses included ambulance transportation (not reimbursed by Medi-Cal because of an unknown glitch in his citizenship papers filed in 1951, a problem being rectified by JFS) and new glasses.

One fund was created by Roz and Abner Goldstine, longtime JFS board members, who donated $250,000 after reading about the plight of Los Angeles’ 3,000 indigent Holocaust survivors in a story last year in The Jewish Journal.

The fund, donated through The Jewish Federation’s Premiere Philanthropy program, provides $50,000 a year, with the first year’s contribution matched by a grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

With the Goldstine fund and with the ongoing $2 million Morgan Aging With Dignity Fund created six years ago by money manager and former Jewish Federation chair Todd Morgan, JFS is able to provide indigent survivors with additional home care hours (usually a weekly maximum of eight) and to cover such emergency expenses as utility bills, medications, transportation and other necessities.

“The need is great,” said JFS Associate Executive Director Susie Forer-Dehrey, adding that last year’s Jewish Journal article “shed light on how important it is to take care of survivors.”

In addition to the Goldstine’s gift, Forer-Dehrey noted that The Journal story triggered more than $20,000 in additional donations, much of it in small amounts, including one envelope with two crumbled dollar bills.

There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles, according to Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon. Of these, 3,000 are determined to be financially needy, a figure based on a United Jewish Communities Report published December 2003, which found 25 percent of Holocaust victims in the United States living in poverty.

The Claims Conference defines needy as someone with income no more than 200 percent above the federal poverty level. In 2007, for a single person, that amounts to $20,420, with no more than $20,000 savings. For a couple, the amount is $27,380, with no more than $30,000 in savings.

And, perhaps surprisingly, the number of indigent survivors is increasing, more than six decades after the Holocaust.

“The whole population is living longer, and so are Holocaust survivors,” said Paula Fern, director of JFS’ Holocaust Survivor Program. Of the approximately 600 survivors that JFS is assisting, many are in their 80s and 90s, and five are more than 100 years old.

Fern explained that as they become older, they become frailer. As a result, they need more home care, which includes help with laundry, cleaning, bathing, grocery shopping, doctor visits and errands.

Also, according to Fern, survivors suffer from many more chronic illnesses than most elderly people, including heart disease, diabetes and asthma and breathing diseases. These are debilitating as well as costly, as they necessitate an average of 10 to 15 prescriptions monthly.

For survivors living on fixed incomes, these expenses add up. Plus, rents, as well as the cost of food, transportation and utilities, are increasing.

“There is a huge lack of affordable housing,” said Fern, who noted that there is great resistance among Holocaust survivors to enter assisted-living facilities, whose institutional settings, no matter how cheerful and home-like, trigger unpleasant memories.

While JFS helps survivors with their psychosocial needs, Bet Tzedek addresses their legal issues. It is, in fact, the only Jewish legal services agency that offers free assistance with reparations, pensions and other benefits from Germany and other European countries.

Currently, Bet Tzedek has about 750 open files in their Holocaust reparations program.

Holocaust survivor Rosalie Greenfield fills out claims for reparations from the Hungarian government
Holocaust survivor Rosalie Greenfield fills out claims for reparations from the Hungarian government during a summer 2006 clinic run by Bet Tzedek. Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek

“Justice moves slowly,” said Wendy Marantz Levine, deputy director of litigation. She explained that some cases have been open 10, 12 and even 15 years and are still awaiting responses.

Briefs: Holocaust denial resolution goes to U.N.; Swiss admit Israel-Syria mediation; Survivors owed


Holocaust Denial Resolution Goes to U.N.

The United States presented a resolution condemning Holocaust denial to the United Nations General Assembly. The text, introduced Tuesday in advance of the U.N.-designated International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27, urges member states “to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event” and “condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” Although it does not mention Iran, the measure is seen as a reaction to last month’s Holocaust denial conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to, but certainly the conference in question only reminds us that there are those among us who actually minimize or deny the Holocaust, and we find that frightening,” said Richard Grenell, the U.S. mission’s spokesman. “And this resolution makes clear it’s unacceptable to even minimize it.”

The resolution, which has some 25 sponsors, is expected to go to a vote Friday.

Pole Wins Jerusalem Prize

This year’s Jerusalem Prize will go to Leszek Kolakowski in recognition of his critiques of the repressive aspects of Soviet communism and his championing of human liberty. The prestigious literary prize will be presented at next month’s Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Born in 1927, Kolakowski earned a doctorate from Warsaw University and went on to serve on the faculties of Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago before retiring in 1995. Past recipients of the prize include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Simone de Beauvoir. Some of the recipients went on to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, including V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.

Swiss Admit Israel-Syria Mediation

Switzerland confirmed that it had been mediating secret efforts to launch Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Monday that top emissaries from her government were currently in Damascus. She refused to elaborate, but the disclosure appeared to confirm a Ha’aretz report earlier this month that a European country had mediated two years of unofficial talks between a retired Israeli diplomat and a Syrian American businessman about how the two countries could resume peace talks that were cut off in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the contacts as unauthorized, while the Syrian government called the Ha’aretz report baseless.

Survivors Owed Billions, Study Says

Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in reparations, according to a new study. The Jewish Political Studies Review in Jerusalem said European nations had promised $3.4 billion in reparations, but only half of that had been paid by 2005. Only about 20 percent of Jewish assets have been returned overall, according to the study, which was made public last Friday by Reuters. The study said payments slowed after the United States stopped pressuring Europe on restitution. Holocaust survivors, many of them poor, are frustrated with the lack of payments. “Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The Claims Conference said it would not comment on the report.

Katsav to Face Rape Charges

Israel’s attorney general decided that President Moshe Katzav should be charged with rape. Menachem Mazuz’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying it had collected enough evidence to support charging Katsav with rape and sexual harassment of former employees, obstruction of justice and fraud. A final decision on whether to indict Katsav will be made after a hearing in which the president may present his case. The president has immunity while in office, but said last month that he would resign if indicted. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing.

JDub, Matisyahu End Legal Troubles

In a release issued Tuesday, nonprofit Jewish record label and management team JDub announced it has resolved all legal disputes with Matisyahu, although its business relationship with the artist remains severed. In a surprise move last March, the Chasidic reggae star abruptly ended his management agreement with JDub’s Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harrison on the eve of the release of his first major studio album, “Youth.” JDub claimed their agreement with the artist had three years remaining on a four-year contract when Matisyahu moved to representation by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

— Staff Report

Rap Mogul Addresses Jewish Congress

Rap mogul Russell Simmons called on Jewish entertainers to fight racism. In a speech Monday to the World Jewish Congress titled “Unity: Fighting Our Fights Together,” Simmons spoke about his public service announcements against racism and anti-Semitism that will be aired in Europe later this month. The ads, produced by Simmons, co-leader of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, feature Simmons and rapper Jay-Z encouraging young people to fight racism and anti-Semitism in their communities. Simmons called on the Beastie Boys and other Jewish entertainers to create another public service announcement with him, this one focusing on Islamophobia.

Saddam Chroniclers Look to Yad Vashem

Iraqis documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes have been consulting with Yad Vashem. Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that a group of Iraqi exiles that want to honor the late dictator’s victims visited the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial last year and also met with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who has documented the stories of Holocaust survivors. “It is difficult for me to make a comparison between the story of the Iraqi victims and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” Kanan Makiya, one of the researchers, told Yediot. “Yet there are many basic similarities. Saddam behaved toward some parts of his people as Hitler did toward the Jews. Both cases are tragedies and there were innocent victims in both cases.”

Shipwreck Found Off Israel’s Coast

An eighth-century shipwreck was discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Though the 50-foot-long boat was discovered almost a decade ago, Haifa University’s Institute for Maritime Studies announced the find Tuesday after completing its research into the vessel.

“We do not have any other historical or archaeological evidence of the economic activity and commerce of this period,” said the university’s Ya’acov Kahanov. “The shipwreck will serve as a source of information about the social and economic activities in this area.”

In addition to the wooden hull, many of the boat’s contents were preserved. Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, wood carvings and food remains, mainly carobs and olives.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Austrian Restitution of Nazi-Era Assets


Last January, Austria joined Germany and the Swiss banks in signing a Holocaust reparations agreement. Relatively little noticed, the Austrian settlement deserves great recognition. Among its distinctive features is that it permits the return of specific items of property, including art works.

After the Anschluss in 1938, the vast bulk of the some $10 billion in assets owned by the 210,000 Austrian Jews was seized, or “Aryanized.” After the war, the reconstituted Austrian government established a restitution commission to oversee restitution of the assets.

These measures were not successful. Many people, despite possible criminal penalties, failed to register seized assets. Conversely, most surviving victims were unaware of their right to reclaim assets, nor could they afford to hire lawyers. The commission often rebuffed the few who did file claims.

The commission developed the legal doctrine of “proper and correct acquisition,” which gave protection to Aryanizers. It is difficult now to document precisely the commission’s unfairness, since most of the records were destroyed.

In August 2000, a lawsuit was filed against the Austrian government. Negotiations followed. In October 2000, the government agreed as an interim measure to make ex gratia payments — without admitting fault — of $7,000 to each Holocaust victim as symbolic compensation for leased apartments, businesses and other property. The total was $150 million.

An overall agreement was reached on Jan. 17. It provided for the Austrian government and private sector to pay $360 million (plus $20 million in interest) into a General Settlement Fund. This would include $150 million for leased apartments and buildings and $210 million for other property, except property dealt with “in rem” — that is, to be restored in kind, including communal property of the Austrian Jewish community. The fund will set aside $25 million for insurance, and Austrian insurance companies agreed to accept the valuations and procedures of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. The fud will also allocate $8 million for the construction of a facility to compensate for the loss of the Hakoah Sports Association. The agreement also provides for social benefits that are expcted over 10- years to toal $112 million, including funds for nursing care and old-age pensions.

In rem claims will be reviewed by an arbitration panel, which, assisted by the Austrian Historians Commission, will make public recommendations to the government. The government and parliament will expect the panel’s recommendations to be followed.

Applicants first must prove they are formally entitled to the property.This means they have to produce evidence that the property was theirs or their ancestor’s.

But how can you describe a painting that was in Uncle Hans’ apartment 60 years ago? How would you know whether or not there were photos or witnesses to prove the picture was there? Sometimes, only the Gestapo’s files may provide answers. Even if proof can be found, the claimants must identify the current titleholder. When the titleholder is a museum or other institution, further problems are posed.

For a claim “on the merits,” the claim must not have been previously been settled or determined by an Austrian tribunal. Payments from the Reconciliation Fund or the Victim Compensation Fund are not counted. Even where an application to the restitution commission has previously been filed, a claim may be made if an extreme injustice took place. The earlier destruction of records could give this provision an added importance. The maximum for each application is $2 million.

Applicants who cannot fulfill the requirements for claims on the merits may still be able to file an application on grounds of “fairness and equity.” In addition to specific assets, other losses concerning education and profession as well as claims for losses, damages and injury, including compensation for slave and forced labor, may be covered under this procedure. The maximum for each household is $2 million.

In case of restitution in kind or in cases of real estate owned by the Republic of Austria, title must be proven valid in form and substance to the greatest possible extent.

At the signing ceremony, last January, Ernst Sucharipa, the Austrian ambassador to the United States and special envoy for restitution issues, said “No amount of money can undo the tremendous suffering and losses that have been inflicted on our Jewish citizens.”

Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the conference on Jewish material claims against Germany, said, “It’s the best that can be done under the circumstance.”

Not everyone has concurred. Five weeks after the settlement was signed, another lawsuit was filed, the lawyers claiming that the settlement is too “deeply flawed” to remain unchallenged.

The settlement is, however, a present reality. Those who may be affected by it should be aware of what it says.



Barry A. Fisher is a Los Angeles lawyer, negotiation team member and signatory to the multinational German and Austrian Holocaust Claims Settlements, and Class Counsel in the Swiss Banks Case. Elizabeth Steiner, a prominent lawyer in Vienna, served on the Austrian settlement-negotiations team and is the only Austrian-victims lawyer who is a signatory to the Austrian settlement. Both Fisher and Steiner participate in prosecuting claims under the Austrian agreement.