Some 75 Holocaust scholars warned the Austrian ambassador in Washington that his country’s sentencing of a prominent historian and journalist who exposed Austria’s failure to return pre-Holocaust property risked looking like an “extreme overreaction.”
In a letter to Austrian Ambassador Hans Peter Manz organized by the David S. Wyman Instiute , whose committee includes Elie Wiesel, these scholars from around the globe called on President Heinz Fischer to reconsider rejections of Stephan Templ’s appeals, which were exhausted after Vienna’s highest court upheld that Templ had attempted to defraud the state.
According to Austrian authorities, Templ, who is Jewish, omitted his aunt’s name in the application for the restitution of his family’s property, which was seized and never returned after the Nazis led the Anschluss of Austria in 1938. The state argued that when Templ filled out the form for his mother in 2006 claiming the entire property, he was defrauding the state through the omission of his estranged relative. In April 2013, a judge at Vienna’s criminal court upheld charges and claimed Templ was “greedy” and wanted “the highest amount of money for himself.”
Templ is expected to begin serving his sentence soon.
What makes the case extraordinary is that rather than Templ and his family members settling the issue in court, the government intervened and filed the prosecution, sentencing Templ to one year in jail. Moreover, Templ is an activist historian in recognizing Austria’s decision not to return much plundered property, writing a book on the subject called Our Vienna: Aryanization, Austrian-Style and apparently leading tours through the Austrian capital pointing out these stolen properties and calling out the names of the families who’ve since moved in by megaphone, according to The Times of Israel.
Among the authors of the letter are professors from India, Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Poland — no Austrian professors made the list. Dr. Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of its leading Nazi hunters, Walter Reich, a former executive director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Prof. Deborah E. Lipstadt, who famously outed British Holocaust denier David Irving, were all on the list.
It read as follows:
Dear Ambassador Manz,
As scholars who have written or taught about the Holocaust or other genocides, we are deeply troubled by the impending imprisonment of an Austrian Jewish historian and journalist who exposed Austria’s failure to return Jewish property seized during the Nazi era.
The crime of which Mr. Templ has been convicted, and sentenced to one year in prison, was his omission of the name of an estranged relative from his application for the return of his family’s seized property. This matter could have been resolved by the Templ family in civil court. The Austrian government’s decision to intervene by prosecuting and jailing Mr. Templ will be seen as an extreme overreaction to Mr. Templ’s important book, Our Vienna: Aryanization Austrian-Style, which criticized Austria’s policy concerning the restitution of Jewish property.
Please convey to President Heinz Fischer our urgent request that he reconsider his rejection of Mr. Templ’s appeal against his prison sentence.