It is a great pleasure for me to introduce myself to you. I have recently assumed the position of Christoph Meran, former Director of the Austrian Press & Information Service, who left at the end of September. Over the years I have been working in the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs dealing with Austrian-American and European-American relations. One of the most challenging and rewarding projects involved negotiating and implementing an agreement on the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, which disbursed payments to victims of forced labor under the NS regime. This agreement was concluded in close cooperation with the U.S. administration in 2000. For the last three years I was assigned to the Austrian Embassy in Moscow.
I look forward to continuing the tradition of this Newsletter and keeping you, dear readers of "Jewish News from Austria", informed about cultural, political and historical news covered by the Austrian media in the forthcoming years. I would therefore appreciate your feedback and suggestions, particularly in regard to its content.
We have tried to present a wide array of articles published in the Austrian media in the course of the last six months covering topics, such as the rebirth of the traditional Hakoah sports club, enlarged youth activities of the Israelite Jewish Community as well as the restitution of art expropriated during the NS era and international issues.
This year has been marked by the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. On December 3, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik opened a conference in Jerusalem marking this occasion and in the course of this visit met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Also this year, Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, along with other paintings from the Bloch-Bauer collection, were returned to Maria Altmann, the only surviving niece of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer’s brother. Representatives of both sides agreed to submit the case to an arbitration court in Austria. The court finally ruled that the conditions for restitution had been fulfilled based upon the 1998 Austrian federal law on restitution of art.
Research on establishing ownership (provenance) is ongoing. Austria’s National Fund has set up a unique database on art objects containing information on objects of art and of cultural value which are currently held in museums and collections by the Republic of Austria or the City of Vienna and which, according to most recent provenance research, may have been expropriated during the NS era.
Finally, we would like to introduce two new institutions, the Scholarship Foundation and the Future Fund that were created as successor organizations to the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, which concluded its work at the end of 2005. The Future Fund has been established to support research work and projects in remembrance of NS victims and to promote international humanitarian cooperation, respect for human rights and tolerance. Among the projects that have been fostered so far were publications, seminars and research work but also initiatives like the project "Flowers in Remembrance" which we presented in the last issue.
I wish you Happy Hanukkah!
Austrian Press and Information Service
Jewish News from Austria # 15
Die Gemeinde (The Community) Nr. 588 (07/2006) During a press conference on June 22, 2006 in the Vienna Community Center, the HAKOAH project was introduced for the first time to the public. This new sports center ushers in a new era of traditional clubs. For the first time since 1938 Hakoah will again have their own center for athletes and no longer have to be a “guest” at other gymnasiums and sports clubs. Designed by the architect, Thomas Feiger, a brand new sports club including three gyms, a fitness room, sauna and wellness area, tennis courts, weightlifting rooms, and a 25-meter indoor swimming pool with resting area will be built if the necessary funding can be raised.
Vienna – The return of the Jewish sports club Hakoah in Prater in Vienna is gradually moving forward. Under bright sunshine, the foundation stone was laid today, Monday, for the new sports facilities on the site which was confiscated in 1938 by the National Socialists. Moreover, the Israelite Religious Community’s (IKG) Zwi Perez Chajes School (ZVC) will be built on the land in the Leopoldstadt district. Almost seven million euros have been given by the Federal government and City of Vienna for building the sports center, the construction of which began some months ago. Still uncertain remains the financing of the indoor swimming pool. One is confident that the required 2.25 million euros needed could be raised with help of sponsors, said Paul Haber, President of the Jewish sports club Hakoah. This was also confirmed by the fundraiser and swimming star, Markus Rogan.
There Must Be a New Youth Organization
Die Gemeinde (The Community) Nr. 591 (10/2006)
Die Gemeinde (The Community) Nr. 591 (10/2006)Die Gemeinde (The Community) speaks with the director, Rafel Schwarz. One year ago The Community introduced youth counselor, Maxim Slutski. Since then, what has changed? How does the future look? We have gotten the youth counselor in the religious community involved in putting more input into working with the young. We have five youth organizations working autonomously. They have more or less members, but at the same time the Israelite Religious Community (IKG) understands that apparently many young people from these organizations don’t feel spoken to. It’s this group for which more needs to be done. As head of JUKO one can do a lot and get things moving. As a working person, however, one is quite limited in terms of time. We have discovered that since we have a youth counselor, we were able to organize many more events and seminars (Leadership/Hadracha Seminars) and international events during the year. That would have been impossible without Maxim Slutski.
Der Standard (11/09/2006)
by Marijana MiljkovicThe life of Jewish young people has many facets. Whereas there are those who emphasize the religious, others are involved with culture
Vienna – Time begins with the beginning of the world. According to the Jewish calendar, this happened exactly 5,767 years ago. Thus, Judaism has also existed as long as this, says Rafael Schwarz, religious director of the Israelite Jewish Community and also director of the Commission for Youth in Vienna. The reason is that one always has held to tradition. He then offers an explanation, reminding us of one’s own history and past.
Der Standard (06/08/2006)
by Andreas FeiertagIt is still unclear whether there will be a Simon Wiesenthal Institute. The debate on the importance of Holocaust research is revealed by the sheer number of ongoing symposia having that as its theme. At the center of the debate: Wiesenthal’s memorandum of 1966 - Austria’s responsibility for the Shoa. Vienna – More perpetrators or more victims? Research dealing with contemporary Austrian history has so often focused solely on quantifying NS crimes and criminals until the wealth of data has ended up constructing diametrical truths. These data, depending on ideology, are now being used as instruments for political goals.
Austrian Press Agency (APA)(10/02/2006)
Decision to be taken tomorrow, Tuesday, by the City Council’s Cultural Committee
Vienna – Tomorrow, Tuesday, a decision will be made as to naming a street after Simon Wiesenthal who died last year. As wished by the Israelite Religious Community (IKG), the current Ichmanngasse in Leopoldstadt will be called Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse in the future. The decision will be made by the City Council’s Cultural Committee. The date for celebrating the inauguration has not been determined.
There was unanimous recommendation by the subcommittee for the renaming of the street in the 2nd district, announced the office of the City Councillor for Culture, Andreas Mailath-Pokorny. It’s located where a new Jewish center for sports and education is being developed on the restituted area of a sports field, the “Hakoah.” Right next to it will be a home for the aged.
“Together with the Israelite Religious Community, we are happy to have found such a good solution,” said Mailath-Pokorny’s spokesman. Currently the street bears the name of Franz Ichmann, a Viennese writer of song lyrics who, according to the IKG, was a member of the National Socialist Party.
The wish for a Wiesenthal park to be created behind the Alfred Hrdlicka “Memorial Opposing War and Faschism” on Albertinaplatz was turned down by the subcommittee. The reason, among others, is because Wiesenthal, who dedicated his life to pursuing Nazi criminals, decried having it created and instead lobbied for the Rachel Whiteread memorial on Judenplatz.
The proposal to have a street renamed in commemoration of Wiesenthal was initiated by the Greens only a few days after his death on September 20, 2005. Due to a deadline provided by law (Interkalarfrist), the renaming of something can only take place at the earliest one year after the death of the person concerned. When exactly the new commemorative plaque will be erected has, according to the City Council, not yet been determined.
Jewish Welcome Service celebrates its anniversary. Heinz Fischer congratulates.
Vienna – “It’s everything that I wanted, and it turned out well,” said a visibly moved Leon Zelman Sunday evening while taking stock of the twenty-five years of the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS).
At the ceremony on the anniversary of the organization in a well-attended event in Vienna’s City Hall, Zelman claimed that it was the “moral responsibility” that served as the motor propelling his commitment. It was the duty to point out to people that the persecution of the Jews didn’t begin with the concentration camps but much earlier. And Zelman, who, himself, was haunted by NS terror and survived numerous extermination camps, is proud of his achievements.
Twenty-five years of JWS included the project, “Welcome to Vienna,” which invited some 4,000 Austrians expelled from Austria during National Socialism back to Vienna. Moreover, the JWS continues to organize exchange programs for young people between Israel, the USA and Austria, and is involved in a number of other special projects.
Federal President Heinz Fischer thanked Zelman for his life’s work: Through his dedication, he has helped the victims to close in peace with a country that has treated them so badly. Zelman’s commitment helped pave the way toward reconciliation, stressing “that we must take care of those who survived.”
Fischer then added, emphasizing that it is “an embarrassment” that it took so long when coming to terms with the past and asking for forgiveness. The Federal President held Austria’s politics in the past as responsible for the “simplified black and white version” after the war. Zelman and the JWS contributed considerably over the past twenty-five years to “really getting to the bottom of the problem.”
Vienna’s Deputy-Mayor Sepp Rieder also thanked Zelman for JWS’s “success story.” Through his commitment, Zelman emphasized taking historical responsibility and contributed greatly to reconciliation.
Never were relations between Austria and Israel so good as at the moment. Plassnik’s trip to Tzip Livni is the visit to a “friend.”
Jerusalem – They characterize each other as “friends,” telephone regularly and have met now and then outside the realms of protocol. The relationship between Jerusalem and Vienna was probably never so good as now.
As expected, the reception was cordial while Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was preparing the way for her counterpart from Austria. Israel’s journalists presented Ursula Plassnik as a leader who made efforts toward justice, clarity and depth. Thus, the tone was set for a bilateral highpoint and for the real occasion of the visit – the opening of a symposium at Hebrew University honoring fifty years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel.
Plassnik didn’t fail to conceal that they had no simple history: “We recognize the difficulties of the legacy of our past,” emphasized Plassnik. That made the “deep feeling of solidarity” which Austria and Israel enjoy today all the more joyous, especially for someone like her who was born after the Shoa.
Austria, who thought of itself as being Hitler’s first victim, refused for a long time to assume responsibility for Nazi crimes. Only during the course of the Waldheim affair did this illusion become apparent and with Israel at the time also recalling its ambassador in Vienna at the beginning of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) coalition government. The open questions regarding restitution were solved only after 2001.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni greeted her counterpart, Ursula Plassnik, as “friend“ in Jerusalem. Both are committed to peace.
Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik (Austrian People’s Party) was cordially received by her Israeli counterpart, Tzip Livni, in Jerusalem. Livni greeted Plassnik on Sunday as a “friend.” She emphasized the mutual meeting held the previous afternoon which opened the symposium on fifty years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Livni said at a mutual press conference that the first time she had met Plassnik was when Austria held the EU Presidency. “I discovered a leader in Plassnik who found a way to be just and clear and was capable of going into depth when confronted with a very complex situation, particularly in the Middle East. I would like to thank you for that.”
Plassnik replied in similar fashion: “I have come to meet a friend in the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, and the Foreign Minister.” Plassnik emphasized that the relationship between the two countries has become very close and that common efforts are being made in the search for peace. It is important to be concerned and committed to not being indifferent. “I have come to the Middle at a time when hope is urgently needed.”
Israel Places Three Conditions Upon Hamas
These are very delicate times regarding Israel, Palestinian autonomy and Lebanon,” said Livni. It is not a question of interests or of playing a “zero sum game;” it concerns strengthening forces that are moderate when faced with extremists. One can find the moderates in all three countries – in Israel, in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon.
When asked a question by one of the journalists, Livni replied that the Israeli government is not interested in a stillstand. But Hamas must accept three conditions (the recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of the agreements) if they hope to help the Palestinian people. Moreover, there is the plan drafted by Ehud Olmert, “political horizon,” which could ease the situation of the Palestinians and could give them hope. “It is the task of President Mahmoud Abbas presiding over the agency for autonomy but also over the international community, to send a strong message to the terrorists and the extremists while at the same time also strengthening the moderates.”
As to the situation of the ceasefire with the Palestinians, the Israeli Minister said that she wants to talk about it in Parliament and that it is a “delicate time.” “It is important that Israel proceeds with reason because compared to conditions before the ceasefire, times have changed.”
THE AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (12/03/2006)
Fiftieth Anniversary of Austrian-Israeli Diplomatic Relations
Jerusalem, December 3, 2006 - "Today we are united by an active partnership based on trust and full of multi-faceted emotions connected with a heritage that is painful in many ways. To me as someone who was born after the horrible time of the Shoa, the openness, friendship, mutual interest, and deep feeling of solidarity which unite us today are a special experience," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik in Jerusalem at a conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel.
Foreign Minister Plassnik, who opened this conference together with her Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, also found clear words for the difficult aspects of Austrian-Israeli relations: "Austria acknowledges the heavy burden of its historic legacy. We do everything possible what people can do today, to understand, to mitigate the pain and to pass on the knowledge about what happened".
It was precisely against this background that the strong human components which united the two countries were of special significance, said the Foreign Minister. "A partnership in practice is also always characterized by the persistent commitment and enthusiasm of individuals. It is these tireless bridge-builders that extend their hands - not despite what happened but because of what happened," said Plassnik. In this context the Foreign Minister referred to the manifold measures taken by Austria in recent years for the victims of the Nazi regime such as the establishment of the National Fund and the General Settlement Fund as well as the amendment of the Act on Welfare Provision of Victims and the Social Insurance Act.
On the occasion of her visit to Israel, Plassnik’s program today also included a number of meetings, among them talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Plassnik also laid a wreath in commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem Memorial.
The talks focused on the latest developments in the region and the chances for a revival of the deadlocked Middle East peace process. "Our common search for peace is really the very core of our everyday work on the construction sites of international policy. Today marks a rare opportunity. Only a few days ago Prime Minister Olmert formulated a clear and decisive call for peace which outlined an opportunity for another - better - future for Israel and the Palestinians. Courage and fearlessness are now needed on both sides to seize this opportunity and implement concrete measures," emphasized the Foreign Minister.
Foreign Minister Livni stressed Foreign Minister Plassnik’s special commitment and circumspection with regard to the Middle East, particularly during the Austria’s EU Presidency. Plassnik emphasised the EU’s willingness to provide long-term support for the latest positive moves. "Trust is an indispensable ingredient in any relationship. It takes time, patience, and commitment to re-establish a basis of trust. Nevertheless, it is this work aimed at establishing trust that the Middle East most urgently needs," concluded the Foreign Minister.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs/ Press Department
When the Austrian Reconciliation Fund concluded its work at the end of 2005 - having disbursed payments to 132,000 former forced laborers during the NS regime - two new institutions were created and funded with the remaining money: A Scholarship Foundation and the Future Fund.
The Scholarship Foundation
This fund promotes programs that offer scholarships to persons from those countries whose citizens suffered particularly from having been recruited as forced laborers during the NS regime. The program, however, is directed not only toward those persons alone, but also toward descendants of forced laborers, who may be living in other countries scattered throughout the world.
All areas of education - degree programs, vocational training, continuing education and advanced professional education - apply. Apart from professional or technical training, scholarship holders will also receive information on corresponding entitlements Austria will offer under the compensation program. Scholarship recipients will, thus, come to serve as “Diplomats of Reconciliation” in their respective home countries.
The Future Fund
The Future Fund has been established for the purpose of supporting projects in remembrance of NS victims and of the threat posed by totalitarian systems and despotism. Its goal is also to promote international humanitarian cooperation, respect for human rights and tolerance. All research work and projects falling within any of these areas are being fostered by the Future Fund.
The Fund has also been entrusted with processing claims that were filed with the Austrian Reconciliation Fund (application deadline of which was December 31, 2003), but have not yet been settled.
October 16, 2006
The National Fund’s art database contains information on objects of art and of cultural value which are currently held in museums and collections by the Republic of Austria or the City of Vienna and which, according to most recent provenance research, may have been expropriated during the NS era. Making the art database available to the public was a cooperative effort of Austrian provenance research and the museums concerned. The measure aims at clarifying whether and to whom the objects should be restituted. Next to each art object entered is information as to its restitution status.
According to Austrian law, works of art which were confiscated in Austria during the NS regime shall be returned to the original owners or to their legal successors. By providing a database on art objects over the internet, the National Fund hopes to allow for objects which qualify for restitution to be identified before they are to be sold.
The English version of the art database will be made available in Spring 2007.
(Preface by the editors and the Austrian Foreign Minister)
Since 1953, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem began documenting the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, preserving the memory and story of each of its six million victims. While remembering those who died, Yad Vashem has likewise been determined to remember those who were rescuers - non-Jews, who risked their lives and those of their families to save their Jewish neighbors - and are recognized as the ‘Righteous Among the Nations.’
In a recent book entitled, The Righteous of Austria. Heroes of the Holocaust, the Holocaust memorial institution honors eighty-six non-Jewish Austrians who risked their freedom and safety to help the Jews survive the Shoa by publishing their stories. They were ‘ordinary people,’ young and old alike from various social strata, holding diverse political convictions and religious views. Yet, as Jakob Borut, volume editor and author of the book’s introduction, points out, they were unusual: “What was unusual about these rescuers was their empathy toward persecuted human beings and their human urge to swim against the stream. In extending help….they displayed the finest characteristics of humanity in an historical and geographical context where the display of such characteristics was a rare act and one fraught with much danger.”
These stories are told because they lived the ancient Talmudic principle of: “Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world.” Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, himself a Holocaust survivor, commented on such figures: “We must know these good people who helped the Jews during the Holocaust. We must learn from them, and in gratitude and hope, we must remember them.”
The book was published in 2006 in celebration of fifty years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. It was financed by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Future Fund of the Republic of Austria, translated into English and presented in commemoration of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp by the Allied Forces on May 5, 1945.
Monument for executed nun, Maria Restituta Kafka
Mödling –Fourteen memorial stones have been laid today in the township of Mödling. According to a latest new broadcast, they are to remind one of the victims of National Socialism and were placed at each of the last residences of those murdered. The project, Stolpersteine (“Stumbling over Stones”), was initiated by the German sculptor, Günter Demnig from Cologne, who was awarded with a medal of honor by the Federal Republic of Germany the previous year.
One of such stones inscribed with the words, “Here Lived” in Mödling was to remind others of Maria Restituta Kafka, who was executed in 1943 and beatified by the Church in 1998. The aim is to commemorate the victims of National Socialism “who were persecuted and murdered out of racist, political or religious reasons.”
Demnig has laid already 7,000 such Stolpersteine in Germany. The first stone memorials in Austria were placed in 1997 for two farmers, Johann and Matthias Nobis from St. Georgen in Salzburg, due to their being conscientious objectors.
Der Standard (11/13/2006)
by Irene Brickner
In Wiener Neustadt discussions held on educating schools and universities about the NS – Searching for Ways out of the “perpetrator-victim dilemma”
Wiener Neustadt – The history of Wiener Neustadt during the NS era is representative for the program of events, claims teacher and historian, Peter Niedermair: “The Allied bombings before the end of the war leveled a major portion of the city. The sorrow over the devastation made it impossible for those concerned to confront the previous NS crimes against the Jews in the region,” explained the co-organizer of this year’s main seminar on how to deal with the topic of “National Socialism and the Holocaust” in domestic education.
This taboo lasted throughout succeeding decades, longer than anywhere else in Austria. It was not until some fifteen years ago did one begin to talk about the flourishing Jewish communities that existed in 1938 in Wiener Neustadt and Baden, the consequences of an insufficient confrontation with the “perpetrator-victim dilemma.”
This proven dilemma – an apparently unsolvable contradiction of value judgments – is the core subject of the meeting of experts and interested parties, which took place from Friday to Sunday in Wiener Neustadt.
Apart from lectures by high-profile historians such as Ernst Hanisch, Winfried Garscha, Gabriele Anderl, Eleonore Lappin and others, excursions are planned to “Jewish Baden” or “Jewish Wiener Neustadt.” Like the four main seminars previously, the events will be financed by the Ministry of Education. A part of the entire project of remembrance, an annual excursion of teachers to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Israel, is being organized.
There are many areas of life, according to Niedermair, where dilemmas of value exist also today. These areas are totally accesible to today’s school children and students. One of the areas to be checked off within the modern-day educational system is that of National Socialism: “Basically it concerns developing the preparedness to feel with others, to have empathy.”
This ability can make one immune - to name one current example - to the NS praising “yay sayer” à la Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) neo-parliamentarian, Wolfgang Zanger, along with the game of rightist political circles “denying the Nazi era and their talk about it.” Otherwise, there is the danger that the statement made by Zanger praising NS economic policy, despite his eventually being alienated, continues to resound. That is to say, as a “signal for the like-minded.”
History of the Bank Austria/Creditanstalt (BA-CA) during the NS era and after the war
Vienna – The Historical Commission, which was appointed in year 2000 by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt as a result of a U.S. class action suit involving victims of aryanization, submitted their final report on Wednesday. The two volumes consisting of about 2,000 pages include research on Bank Austria/Creditanstalt during the NS era and following the war. Under investigation were the Creditanstalt Bankverein, the Creditanstalt Regional banks, Länderbank and Zentralsparkasse. Moreover, an archive containing original documents was also created.
After five years of researching archives in Austria and Europe, historians came to the conclusion that with the exception of the Zentralsparkasse in Vienna, the parent institutions of today’s Bank Austria and Creditanstalt were controlled by German establishments. Creditanstalt-Bankverein found itself under majority control of the Deutsche Bank, the Länderbank was an affiliate of Dresdner Bank, for example, but they had considerable room for maneuver. Head of the Historical Commission, Gerald D. Feldman from UC Berkeley, found that the German dictates limited themselves to certain basic conditions within which the banks, however, dictated their own policy.
In addition, Feldman maintains that “throwing out” the Jews happened not only in their own branch banks but also in the industrial plants in which the banks had holdings. Moreover, it was discovered that a strong expansionist movement began in the direction of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Poland. Vienna was considered the economic and political hub for the East. One attempted to reestablish the conditions of the k. u. k. era. The military conquest paved the way for the financial institutions: “Where the army was, were the banks.” The branch in Cracow conducted, with the help of an arrangement made with the SS, its own section for customers living in concentration camps. The funds from those who died remained with the bank. The political co-management of the financial institutions was also found in the granting of credit to, for example, weapons firms. Some interesting details on the side: also the Sudeten German, Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of many Jews, had an account with the CA.
Also, after 1939 the higher echelons of management within the Zentralbank underwent “cleansing;” that is, replaced by 1942 at the latest, they were clearly earmarked for National Socialists. According to one of the Commission’s members, Theodor Venue, Lecturer at the University of Vienna, the saving banks (Sparkassen) were in terms of the statutes closely coupled with the NS regime, the consequences of which allowed the Nazis to penetrate Vienna’s municipal bodies as well as the Sparkasse.
Concerning denazification after WW II, Oliver Rathkolb from the Institute for Contemporary History at the University of Vienna believed that first of all the Reich’s Germans were removed from the three banks followed by the members of the NSDAP. Later during the times of compensation, the Creditananstalt and the Länderbank refrained from taking any own initiative and held rather closely to state regulations. Subsequently, bank account holders partially had to wait until 1961 for the “Abgeltungsfondsgesetz” (Compensation Fund’s Act). Thus, over the course of many years, there was a “wide range of stagnant accounts.”
Ulrike Zimmerl, historian and project coordinator of the Commission, was responsible for the documentation archive of the BA-CA. The source of the material used by the Historical Commission, consisting of documents measuring one and one-half kilometers long, will be made available to the public. The results of the researchers have been published by C.H. Beck Publishers under the title, “Österreichische Banken und Sparkassen im Nationalsozialisumus und in der Nachkriegszeit” and will soon be translated into English.
by Renate Graber
The Historical Commission appointed by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt is involved with the role of the banks during the NS era. One result: Austria’s institutes followed their own policy of expansionism
Actually it is due to the activities of U.S. class-action attorney, Ed Fagan, that those interested in contemporary history now have been presented with two volumes containing 2,019 pages on the role of Austrian banks during the NS era. The authors researched the activities of the Creditanstalt-Bankverein, regional banks, Länderbank and the Zentralsparkasse. The independent Historical Commission appointed by Bank Austria/Creditanstalt (BA-CA) included Gerald D. Feldman, Oliver Rathkolb, Theodor Venus and Ulrike Zimmerl. On Wednesday, Director of BA-CA, Johann Strobl, presented their work in Vienna.
The largest Austrian bank became ensnarled in its own NS history in 1998. Ed Fagan made the lawsuit involving millions of dollars pending on behalf of the 30,000 surviving Holocaust victims who saw themselves as affected by, for example, having their accounts frozen or aryanized. The BA-CA found itself forced to enter settlement discussions over restitution payments. In January 2000, the U.S. court approved the “Holocaust Settlement” involving the BA-CA and agreed with the Nazi victims. The bank paid 40 million dollars (at the time 38.6 million euros), and committed itself to allowing independent researchers to shed light upon their NS history.
Head of the Commission, U.S. university professor, Feldman, claimed that the most important result was “the assumption that the fault lay totally with the Germans was proved wrong. Austria’s banks followed their own policy of expansionism. One wanted to have it allied to the time before 1919.” According to Venus, also the Zentralbank had surprisingly expanded. Because, however, the business of making loans fell apart, head of the Zentralbank, Walther Schmidt, tried “to find a way out because he had to of course earn the interest. He found a way via the Reich’s bonds.
Historian Feldman found a direct involvement with business being made with the concentration camps in the CA in Cracow, from which money flowed in 1941 for prisoners. Conflicting revelations were to be found throughout the entire history of the banks, depicted also in the example of Oskar Schindler, “savior of the Jews,” who also had a CA account in Cracow.
Denazification after 1945 was made up of two phases, as everywhere in Austria: Initially “fast and intensive” (Rathkolb), followed by being subject to the laws of amnesty, and then highly slowed down.”