Austria ruling supports restitution

Panel: Vienna building seized by Nazis should be returned to owners' heirs.

austria holocaust 298 AP (photo credit: )
austria holocaust 298 AP
(photo credit: )
A restitution panel has ruled that a stately building in central Vienna should be handed over to heirs of the couple that owned it before the Nazis seized it, an official said Friday. In 1965, the government paid 700,000 Schilling for the six-story office building to a special fund after failing to locate relatives who would inherit the property. The fund collected such payments in cases where no relatives were found. The panel called that decision unfair because the payment was just a fraction of the building's true value - several million Schilling, said Juergen Schrenser, a spokesman for Austria's General Settlement Fund. "The panel has now recommended that the building be restituted," he said. Nine relatives should gain joint ownership, the panel said. Chris Andrews, one of the heirs, was elated by the decision. "It's very symbolic. This building represents hopes and dreams, not just for me, but for many people," Andrews said in a telephone interview from Palo Alto, California. "It's a grand symbol of a kind of a new generation, a new way of thinking that we can move forward on things." Andrews' mother, who was born in the building, fled Vienna in 1938 because of the Nazi persecution. She ended up in the United States, where she and her two sons were living on welfare when the Austrian government - which had assumed ownership of Nazi properties following the war - made the compensation payment to the special fund. The Austrian government is leasing the offices, located near Vienna's famed City Hall, to the Austrian-American Educational Commission, the Austria branch of the Fulbright Commission. Different US authorities have been housed there since the end of World War II. The property has more than 100 rooms. Andrews estimated its value at several million dollars. The government must formally approve the panel's decision before it can take effect, and a class action lawsuit pending in a New York court also must be withdrawn, Schrenser said. It was unclear when that would be. The withdrawal of class action lawsuits was a condition in a deal in which Austria agreed to compensate for Nazi seizures of property. Andrews said he intended to try to buy his relatives' share of the property. US missions currently housed there "will be moving out," he said, expressing frustration over what he said was the US Embassy's "ducking the issue and being unwilling over the last four years to have a conversation with me." US Embassy spokesman William H. Wanlund said he would have no comment until the issue is finalized.