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HistorianWhoProbedAustriasNazi
PastBeginsSentenceforDefrauding
State
By ALISONSMALE

OCT.8,2015

BERLINAnAustrianhistorianwhohaslongcriticizedhiscountrys
fumblingrestitutionofJewishpropertyseizedbytheNazisbeganaone
yearprisonterminViennathisweekafterlosinghisfinalappealofa
convictionfordefraudingthestate.
Thecase,unfoldingoveradecade,hasstirredtheghostsofAustrias
murkyNazipast.IthasalsofannedoutrageamongHolocausthistorians,
dozensofwhomwrotetotheAustrianauthoritiespleadingforthecaseto
bedismissed.Lastmonth,PresidentHeinzFischerrejectedapleafor
clemency,arguingthathehadnomandatetointerveneinsuchacase.
Thehistorian,StephanTempl,54,wascoauthorofabookin2001,
OurVienna,whichdocumentedhundredsofpropertiesseizedunderthe
NazisthatwereneverreturnedtoJewishownersortheirheirsafterWorld
WarII.ThebookoutragedmanyAustrians,exposinglongheldsecrets
abouttheNaziera,andhelpedsetoffaflurryoflegalclaims.
Mr.Templhimselfbecameinvolvedinarestitutioncasein2005,the
tangledstrandsofwhichresultedinhisimprisonmentonMondayafterall

existingavenuesofappealhadapparentlybeenexhausted.
Mr.Templslawyer,RobertAmsterdam,saidinatelephoneinterview
thathisclientwasavictimofselectivepersecution.Hehasbeen
subjectedtoallofthisasretributionforthepublicationofhisbook,Mr.
Amsterdamsaid.
Until1991,whenChancellorFranzVranitzkydeclaredthatAustrians
werenotonlyvictimsbutalsoperpetratorsofNazicrimes,Austriahad
identifieditselfasthefirstvictimofHitler,whoannexedhisnative
AustriainMarch1938.ManyAustrianswelcomedtheNazisothers
resistedandwerepunished.Viennas200,000Jewsweredecimated,and
thoughsomemanagedtoflee,65,000weredeportedandperishedin
deathcamps.
Thiscontortedhistoryhasbeenclearlyonviewinthestillhalting
restitutionofJewishproperty,mostrecentlychronicledinthemovie
WomaninGold,aboutthereturnofoneofGustavKlimtsmostfamous
paintings.
Mr.Templscasebeganwhenheactedforhismother,Helene,a
Holocaustsurvivor.Heappliedforhershareofaonetimehospitalin
centralViennathathadbelongedtoacousinofMr.Templsmaternal
grandmotherandthecousinswife.
Thatcouplecommittedsuicidein1938andtheirpropertywasseized.
Thebuilding,nowaluxuryresidence,waslistedinthe2001bookby
Mr.Templandafellowhistorian,TinaWalzer,buthedidnotknowthen
thathismotherhadanyclaim.Eventually,itwasreturnedtovariousheirs
andsoldin2010topropertydevelopers.Mr.Templsmotherreceived1.1
millioneurosashershareofthatsale.
Mr.Templsestrangedaunt,ElisabethKretschmer,couldalsohave
stakedaclaim,butinaninterviewlastyear,shesaidshedidnotlearn
aboutherrightstothepropertyuntilafterthedeadlinetofileclaimshad
passed.

In2013,stateprosecutorsaccusedMr.Templofdefraudingthe
Austrianstate,assertingthatheshouldhavelistedhisauntsclaim.The
prosecutorsarguedthatbyfailingtodoso,Mr.Templhaddeprivedthe
stateof550,000euroshalfofHeleneTemplssharethatitcouldhave
beenentitledtointheabsenceofMs.Kretschmersclaim.
Mr.AmsterdamandMs.Walzerbothnotedthattherewerenoother
knowncasesofrestitutioninAustriainwhichthegovernmenttook
ownershipofpropertysharesunclaimedbyheirs.NorisitclearthatMr.
Templwaslegallyobligedtofindtheauntorotherheirs,saidEva
Blimlinger,whoheadedtheAustrianHistoricalCommissionssearchfor
stolenpropertyuntil2004.
Mr.Templwasfirstsentencedtothreeyearsinprisonin2013,a
punishmentthatwasreducedonappealtooneyear.Thesentencewas
relativelyseverebecauseofthelargesumsinvolved,Ms.Blimlingersaid.
Ms.Walzer,afreelancehistorian,saidshenowskirtedrestitution
controversiesandfocusedinsteadonJewishcemeteries.Despiteherlong
experiencewiththemanyprejudicesandproblemsthatsurround
ViennasNazipast,Mr.Templscaseissimplybaffling,shesaid.
EitherIgivebackproperty,orIdonotgiveitback,saidMs.
Walzer,summarizingtheAustriangovernmentschoiceinrestitution
cases.Butnotbothatthesametime.
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AversionofthisarticleappearsinprintonOctober9,2015,onpageA10oftheNewYorkedition
withtheheadline:HistorianWhoStudiedAustriasNaziPastIsJailed.

2015TheNewYorkTimesCompany