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HolocausthistorianscriticiseAustrias

jailingofJewishauthor
StephanTemplhighlightedcasesofJewishpropertystolenbytheNazisbuthasnowbeen
punishedforomittinganauntsnameinarestitutionclaim
KateConnollyinBerlin
Sunday4October201516.10BST

AhistorianandvocalcriticoftheAustriangovernmentsirresoluteattitudetowardsreturning
propertiesstolenfromtheirJewishownersbytheNaziswillbejailedonMondayafterbeing
convictedofdefraudingthestate,inwhatleadingHolocausthistorianshavecondemnedasa
deeplytroublingoverreaction.
StephanTempl,theauthorofUnserWien(OurVienna),abookthatcataloguedhundredsof
prominentJewishownedpropertiesseizedbytheNazisthatwereneverreturned,receiveda
oneyearsentenceaspunishmentforhavingomittedthenameofanestrangedauntinan
applicationonbehalfofhismotherforthereturnofpropertyseizedfromhisJewishrelativesin
1938.
Templsbook,cowrittenbythehistorianTinaWalzer,createdahugestirwhenitwas
publishedin2001.ItincludedlittleknownaccountsofVienneselandmarksfromthecitys
famousferriswheeltoluxuryhotelsthathadbeenAryanisedandforwhichownersorheirs
hadbeeneithernever,orinsufficiently,compensated.
ThebooktriggeredawaveoflegalclaimsagainsttheAustrianstatefromaroundtheworld.
ThepropertyatthecentreofTemplslegalbattlewiththestateisahuge,elegant19thcentury
villaneartheRingstrasseinthecentreofViennathatwasonceaprivatebirthclinicbelonging
toLotharFrth,acousinofTemplsgrandmother.
AmonthbeforethebuildingwasexpropriatedbytheNazison3April1938,Frth,theheadof
theclinic,andhiswife,Sue,wereforcedbyacaretakertocleanthepavementinfrontofthe
buildingusingtoothbrushesinanultimateactofhumiliation.Thecouplethenretreatedtothe
operatingroomatthetopofthehospitalandinjectedthemselveswithpoison.
Frthwroteinasuicidenote:Wehavehadenough.
In2005,Templfiledarestitutionclaimonbehalfofhisnow82yearoldmother,Helene,a
Holocaustsurvivor,forhershareofthebuilding.Hehaddiscoveredonlybychancethrough
mediareportsthatanarbitrationpanelsetupasaresultofarestitutiontreatybetweenthe
USandAustriatofacilitatethereturnofNaziconfiscatedpropertiesthathadremainedunder
AustriascontrolfordecadeshaddecidedtoreturnthebuildingtoheirsintheUS,UKand
Switzerland.

ThesanatoriumhadinfactappearedasoneoftheAryanisedpropertieslistedinmybook,but
atthetimeIdidtheresearchonitIhadnotknownthatmymotherhadanyclaimtoit,Templ
toldtheGuardian.
Afirstgroupofheirshadbeentrackeddownbyagenealogistandanotary,whowasalso
workingforthestate,andtowhomallthenonAustrianresidentswererequiredtopaya40%
contingentfee.SuchfeesareillegalinAustria,whichiswhyTemplsupporterssuspecthis
mother,wholivesinVienna,wasnevercontactedandthefamilyhadtofindoutforthemselves
thattheywereamongtheheirs.
Afteralengthylegalprocess,thebuildingwasreturnedtotheheirs39oftheminall.Whenit
wassoldin2010tobeturnedintoluxuryapartments,Helenereceived1.1m(800,000)for
hershare.
In2011,thesamenotarycontactedHelenessister,ElisabethKretschmar,whoHelenehad
beenestrangedfromforseveraldecades,tellinghershehadmissedthedeadlinetoclaimfor
hershare.AstateprosecutorstartedcriminalproceedingsagainstTempl,accusinghimof
defraudingAustriaonthegroundsthathadhisauntchosennottoclaimhershare,itcouldhave
gonetothestate.
AjudgeruledthatTemplhaddamagedtheRepublicofAustria,eventhoughKretschmar,86,
hasgoneonrecordinfrontofacourttosaysheshewouldneverhaverelinquishedhershareto
thestate.
Templwassentencedtothreeyearsinprison,whichwasreducedonappealtooneyearonthe
groundshehasnotoffendedbefore.
ButlegalexpertsinAustriahavesaidTempl,54,aCzechAustrianwholivesinPrague,was
neverunderanylegalobligationtocontactotherheirs.Eventhearbitrationpanelhasstatedin
previousrestitutiondecisionsthattheresponsibilitydoesnotliewithrestitutionapplicantsto
nameotherpotentialheirs.
EvaBlimlinger,whoheadedtheAustrianHistoricalCommissionssearchforstolenproperty
said:Itsthedutyofthearbitrationpaneltofindoutifthereareotherheirs,notthatof
StephanTemplandhismother.
TempltoldtheGuardian:Owingtothefactthatthestatestolethepropertyfrommyfamily,
theobligationshouldbeonthemtotrackdowntherelatives.MyonlyobligationasfarasIwas
concernedwastoassurethosedecidingontherestitutionthatmymothersclaimwasbona
fide.
HehassincediscoveredanotherheirlivinginBerlin,whohesaystheAustrianauthoritiesalso
failedtocontact.
RobertAmsterdam,aleadinghumanrightslawyerfromCanadawhodefendedtheRussian
oligarchMikhailKhodorkovsky,isrepresentingTemplonaprobonobasis.HesaidTempls
case,whichhebelievedwasinextricablytiedtothehorrorsoftheAnschluss(the1938
annexationofAustriatoNaziGermany)andthesubsequenttheftbytheNazisofJewish
ownedproperty,wasanaffronttojusticeandfullofflaws.
Itisfraughtwithlegalabnormalitiesfrombeginningtoend,hesaid.Someoftheprosecutors

havetriedtodefameStephanbyaccusinghimofplayingastereotypicalgreedyJew,butif
theresagreedypartyitsthestateofAustria,whostolethepropertyinthefirstplace.
Itsanobscenityakintoarobbersuingyoubecausehesleftbehindthetoolsheusedto
breakintoyourhouse.
Thefactwereseeingthis70yearsaftertheendofworldwartwoisaterriblepersonal
tragedyforStephan,andacrimeagainstpersonalmemory.
Lastmonth,theAustrianpresident,HeinzFischer,rejectedarequestforclemency,sayingthe
punishmentwasjustbecauseaccordingtothecourtrulingTemplhaddamagedAustriabyhis
actions.
SeventyfiveHolocausthistoriansfromaroundtheworld,includingProfDeborahLipstadt,
authorofHistoryonTrial,ProfDavidSWyman,authorofTheAbandonmentoftheJews,and
ProfWalterReich,formerexecutivedirectoroftheUSHolocaustMemorialMuseumin
Washington,havesignedalettertotheAustriangovernmenturgingittocancelTemplsprison
sentence,whichisunprecedentedinthehistoryofAustrianrestitutionlaw.
AnotherTemplsupporter,KarlPfeifer,aveteranAustrianjournalistandaHolocaustsurvivor
whohasfollowedthecase,said:TheonlyreasonTemplwasprosecutedisthathetoucheda
nervewithhisbook,whichremindedtheAustriansofhowtheystoleJewishproperty.
StuartEizenstat,aformerdeputysecretaryoftheUSTreasuryandformerUSambassadorto
theEU,whohelpedsetupAustriasrestitutionsystem,calledtheprosecutionalmost
inexplicable,andsaidtheburdenshouldbeonthestatetofindheirs.Onceanheirbringsa
claim,thegovernmentshouldpublishitandsayarethereanymore[heirs]outthere?he
said.
Thegeneralsettlementfund,anintergovernmentalorganisationsetuptorecommendthe
returnofNazilootedpropertyfromthestatetoitsformerownersortheirheirs,didnot
respondtotheGuardiansrequestforastatement.Itswebsitestatesthatitdoesnotwishto
commentonthecriminalproceedingsandrefersinquirersinsteadtothepublicationsofthe
supremecourt.
Thejusticeministrysaiditwasunabletocommentonthecasebecauseitdidnotwantto
createtheimpressionweretryingtoinfluencethejurisdictionoftheindependentcourts.But
itaddedthataccordingtothecourtsruling,Templhadintentionallysoughtunjust
enrichment.
Templslawyerssaidthatevenwhenheisbehindbarstheywillcontinuetofightforareprieve
orforthecasetobereopened.
TemplsaidhefelttrappedinanabsurdandKafkaesquesituation.Andimaginethe
nightmareformymotherasaHolocaustsurvivor,headded.ShesaysitsasiftheNazi
persecutioncontinuesforher,becausetheytreatusasifwewereprofiteeringfromtheanti
JewishlawsandAustriawasavictimoftheNaziera.
Inafurtherblow,twoofthestolpersteine,orbrassplaquesabout50,000ofwhichhavebeen
setintopavementsacrosstheterritoriesoftheformerThirdReichasremindersoftheJewish
citizenswhooncelivedtherehavebeenremovedbythenewownersoftheformer

sanatorium.TheywereengravedwiththenamesofLotharandSueFrthandthedateoftheir
deaths.
Isupposeitwouldbetoouncomfortableforthenewresidentstoberemindedeverytimethey
wentthroughthedooroftheJewishcitizenswhooncelivedthereandthecircumstancesin
whichtheydied,Templsaid.

Topics
Austria
Nazism
Holocaust
Judaism
Secondworldwar
Europe

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