General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism (Allgemeiner Entschädigungsfonds für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus)
In 2001 the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism (Allgemeiner Entschädigungsfonds für Opfer des Nationalsozialismus) was set up, endowed with US $210 million. The Fund was created in response to political pressure resulting from class action lawsuits filed in the United States of America against the Republic of Austria and Austrian companies. A joint statement on 17 January 2001 by the Governments of the Republic of Austria and the United States of America, Austrian companies, the Claims Conference (including the Central Committee of Jews from Austria in Israel and the American Council for Equal Compensation of Nazi Victims from Austria), and the Austrian Jewish Community addressed these issues.
The main measures set out in the Joint Statement were the allocation of US $150 million to the National Fund to provide immediate assistance to victims of the Nazi regime (compensation for lost assets such as apartment and business leases, household property, personal valuables and effects); the provision of social benefits ("Pflegegeld"); and the creation of the General Settlement Fund. In Annexe A, the Joint Statement sets out these measures, including the Fund's mandate. A subsequent agreement between Austria and the US elaborated on the Statement, and the law establishing the General Settlement Fund was adopted on 31 January 2001. The Fund is distinct from the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism but is administered by it.
In addition to the key measures mentioned above, Annexe A of the Joint Statement includes further statements of intent by the Austrian Government, including one regarding the restitution of works of art: "Art restitution will proceed on an expedited basis pursuant to the Federal Law of December 4, 1998 concerning works of art from Austrian Federal Museums and Collections. The Austrian Federal Government will undertake its best efforts to address the issue of the return of works of art from Austrian companies and Austrian public entities not covered by the Federal Law. The Austrian Federal Government will undertake its best efforts to encourage the adoption of similar procedures at the municipal and provincial levels. To this end, the Austrian Federal Chancellor will write a letter to governors and mayors urging them to adopt such measures, recalling the resolution by the Austrian Parliament of 1998 urging provincial and municipal museums to research the provenance of the art works in their possession and to return all such art looted during the National Socialist era to the rightful owners."
The General Settlement Fund, however, does not deal with the restitution of works of art. But applications for compensation for confiscated movable property, including works of art, can be made via this Fund (through the Claims Committee, see below).
The General Settlement Fund is applicable to: "Persons who were persecuted by the National Socialist regime on political grounds, on grounds of origin, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or of physical or mental handicap or of accusations of so-called asociality, or who left the country to escape such persecution, and who suffered losses or damages as a result of or in connection with events having occurred on the territory of the present-day Republic of Austria during the National Socialist era are eligible to file an application. In addition, heirs of such persons, in accordance with the provisions of the Austrian General Code of Civil Law (ABGB), are eligible to file an application, as well as associations or their legal successors."
The Fund provides for compensation for assets and insurance policies and the restitution of real property. For compensation, applications are considered by an independent Claims Committee, which considers them either according to a claims-based procedure or an equity-based procedure. The procedures are each allocated 50 % of the Fund's endowment.
The claims-based process applies to the following categories:
Payments are administered per historical person. On the Fund's website, a special section is dedicated to insurance policy claims, which includes a list by the Austrian Association of Insurance Companies of policy holders who may be entitled to compensatory payments.
The equity-based process applies to the following categories:
It allows for a more relaxed standard of proof and is administered per historical household.
For compensation claims, the deadline for filing applications is 28 May 2003. Because payments will be made on a pro-rata basis, the exact amount paid will only be confirmed after all applications have been received on 28 May 2003.
As regards restitution, the General Settlement Fund has created an Arbitration Panel which considers applications for the restitution of confiscated real property (land and buildings) owned by the Austrian State on 17 January 2001. A database of all real property owned by the Federal Republic of Austria on 17 January 2001 (in German only) will be available on the website of the Historians' Commission from late March 2003 (under 'Progress Reports'; last on the list).
In addition, Jewish communal organisations can apply for the restitution of movable property, in particular for items of cultural and religious value. Claims can be filed with the Arbitration panel up to one year after the publication of the Historians' Commission's final report. The report was submitted on 24 February 2003, which makes the deadline for filing claims with the Arbitration panel the 24 February 2004.
Application forms for the General Settlement Fund and detailed information on all issues and procedures can be found in German and English on the National Fund's website. A basic information sheet on the General Settlement Fund can also be downloaded in the following languages: German, English, French, Italian, Hebrew, Danish, Dutch and Flemish, Norwegian, Russian, Hungarian, Spanish, Polish, Yiddish, Finnish, and Czech.
The site also provides a guide for locating historical records required for applications to the Fund. Finally, the site also gives an overview of the historical background the General Settlement Fund grew out of and responds to. This includes an overview of Austrian restitution legislation and Austrian restitution and compensation efforts based on research by the Historians' Commission.
General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism
Dr. Karl-Renner-Ring 3
Tel: +43 (0)1 408 12 63
Fax: +43 (0)1 310 00 88
<www.nationalfonds.org> in German and English
<http://www.nationalfonds.org/index.htm >, accessed 11 March 2003