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Austria’s Opportunity to Reflect Upon Its Failures in the Restitution Process

An upcoming event to be held in Vienna on the theme “Difficult Heritage and ‘Reparations’.
Restitution and Reparations in Austria” is a chance for Austria to acknowledge the mistakes it
has made in its reluctant grapple with its restitution obligations.
It would be a glaring omission if the case of Stephan Templ was not raised on January 27 given
that it has attracted both national and international media coverage and is known at every level
of Austrian society. This is because Mr Templ is the only Austrian to ever be sentenced to jail
because of a restitution application.
Having been an outspoken critic of Austria’s refusal to acknowledge its complicity with the
National-Socialist regime, and of its 60-year-long evasion of righting this wrong through
restitution, Mr Templ has become an unfortunate scapegoat of Austria’s desire to forget its
sordid past.
The Austrian state has continued its self-positioning as the victim in the case of Stephan Templ,
where he was convicted of taking property from the State that the State had first stolen from
Mr Templ’s great-great granduncle. Mr Templ was convicted because the Austrian state claims
it has a right to this property that it was supposed to have fully divested itself of through
restitution.
This case is a legal and moral outrage as there is no basis whatsoever in Austrian law or in its
restitution legislation for the State to claim shares in a property in which it has no legal right.
Many in Austrian society, including judges, civil servants and politicians have publicly
expressed their disagreement with this legally-questionable stance of the State.
On such an important day (January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day), one
hopes that Wolfgang Schlüssel will celebrate the good and important work he and Stuart
Eizenstat set in motion and will take the brave step to acknowledge that the belated but
welcome justice of their restitution programme has been stained by the conviction and
impending imprisonment of Mr Templ.