Compensating victims of Nazi persecutionNews
Wadham Honorary Fellow Sir Franklin Berman spoke of reconciliation and healing at the disbanding of the Claims Committee compensating victims of National Socialism at a reception at the Austrian Parliament this month.
Having chaired the committee since its inception 15 years ago, Sir Frank (Law, 1961), who was appointed to the chairmanship by joint decision of the US and Austria, expressed the Claims Committee’s hope that “through its work and, indeed, its very existence it had in its own way made a contribution towards creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, and perhaps even towards healing wounds of the past”.
Berman continued: “To have contributed, over a period of some 15 years, to the construction, and then the successful operation, of a system for addressing intolerable past injustice is a moral activity, felt equally strongly to be so by all of those involved.” The Claims Committee had been aware from the very outset that “monetary payment could never in itself make good for gross injustice”. Instead, the main purpose of the General Settlement Fund was “to make it known that here was a body that would listen to claimants, hear their stories, and offer them some form of official acknowledgement of their suffering”.
The 700 page Claims Committee Final Report documents the importance of the Washington Agreement in dealing with Austria’s Nazi past, the many and varied aspects that had to be taken into consideration during its implementation, and the procedure and the high procedural standards applied in it.
In the course of its work, the Committee decided claims submitted by 20,702 applicants, 18,155 of whom (87.7 %) were awarded compensation. The applications submitted covered 151,949 claims for 94,335 heads of loss. A little over two thirds of the claims (103,425 or 68.07 %) were granted. The largest proportion of positive decisions was issued in the category “Occupational and educational losses”, while the vast majority of claims for real estate were rejected. These figures reflect Austria’s previous restitution policies which after 1945 pursued the policy of restituting only assets, including real estate, that were still available. Overall, the claims recognized by the Claims Committee totalled approx. 1.6 billion U.S. Dollars.
The General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism was established in 2001 by Austrian legislation, pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement between the US and Austria. The aim of the Fund was to provide a comprehensive solution to open questions of compensation for victims of Nazi persecution for losses and damage that were incurred as a result of, or in connection with, events that took place on the present-day territory of the Republic of Austria. The Fund had the task of compensating losses that were not, or only insufficiently, accounted for by previous restitution and compensation measures.