The National Fund, the General Settlement Fund and the Fund for the Restoration of the Jewish Cemeteries in Austria
The “National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism” was founded in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the reestablishment of the democratic Republic of Austria as a result of the Austrian Declaration of Independence. This was followed by the establishment of the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism in 2001 and the Fund for the Restoration of the Jewish Cemeteries in Austria in 2010.
The National Fund of the Republic of Austria
Established in 1995
The National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism was established with the National Council in 1995 as an expression of Austria’s special responsibility towards the victims of National Socialism. The main task of the National Fund is to make the “gesture payments” to the victims in the amount of 5,087.10 euros. People who were persecuted on political grounds, on grounds of religion, nationality, sexual orientation, a physical or mental handicap or of accusations of so-called asociality, or who otherwise fell victim to typical Nazi injustice or left the country in order to escape such persecution are eligible to receive a payment.
The National Fund grants recognition to all victims of National Socialism, including those who have previously received little or no acknowledgement in Austria. These include Roma and Sinti, “Spanienkämpfer”, Carinthian Slovenes, the “Spiegelgrund children” and homosexuals, as well as people resettled from “Döllersheimer Ländchen” (Allentsteig/Lower Austria), victims of Nazi courts martial, conscientious objectors and deserters from the German Armed Forces. At the same time the Fund helps raise social and political awareness of certain groups of victims and the different forms of persecution.
Since its inception the National Fund has granted official recognition to around 30,000 victims of National Socialism and made gesture payments amounting to approximately 156 million euros.
The National Fund also subsidises projects that benefit the victims of National Socialism, serve academic research into National Socialism and the fates of its victims, recall Nazi injustice or safeguard the memory of the victims. Strong emphasis is placed on supporting social, medical and psychotherapeutic projects that help surviving victims. Scientific projects are subsidised, too; special importance is also attached to educational projects and projects of remembrance. Between 1995 and 2015 the Fund subsidised around 1,500 projects with funding in excess of 25 million euros.
Applications for a “gesture payment” and for project funding are can be filed indefinitely.
Further activities of the National Fund
The National Fund also renders individual payments to victims of National Socialism who meet many but not all of the criteria for a payment pursuant to the National Fund Law. These payments are made from the Hardship Compensation Fund, set up in 1999, and the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund. The capital of the latter-mentioned fund came from the residue of the looted gold reserves, to which several countries had waived their claims. These funds were used to subsidize projects and to make payments to needy Holocaust survivors. The Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund distributed the last of its means in 2010.
In 1998 in accordance with the provisions of the Art Restitution Law the National Fund was entrusted with the disposal of “heirless” art in public ownership and using the proceeds to benefit the victims of National Socialism. Before the artworks are subjected to disposition, the National Fund exhausts all avenues in its search for people who are potentially eligible to receive them. To achieve this, the National Fund assists the art restitution committees of the Republic of Austria and the City of Vienna in their search for heirs. In 2006 it published an online art database containing information on over 9,100 objects.
In 2001 the National Fund was entrusted with distributing compensation for seized tenancy rights, household effects and personal valuables in implementation of the Washington Agreement. Over 20,000 beneficiaries received an initial payment of 7,630 euros and an additional payment of 1,000 euros under this title; in total it distributed around 175 million euros.
In 2009 the Fund was nominated as the coordinating office for the renewal of the Austrian exhibition in Block 17 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland. The new exhibition will be entitled “Far removed. Austria in Auschwitz”.
The Fund also provides administrative support to the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism, which was established in 2001 and endowed with 210 million euros, and the Fund for the Restoration of the Jewish Cemeteries in Austria.
Lastly, the Fund also acts as an Austrian coordination office for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
In order to preserve and pass on the survivors’ experiences the National Fund documents their life stories and publishes them online and in a series of books.
Since January 2013 the National Fund has been operating an online finding aid, the Findbuch for Victims of National Socialism, available in German and English. This online portal enables people to search for materials on Nazi property seizures and Austrian restitution and compensation measures held in several Austrian archives.
The General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism
Established in 2001 to solve unresolved settlement issues
The General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism was established in 2001 and endowed with 210 million dollars. Its aim was to provide a comprehensive resolution to open questions of compensation of victims of National Socialism for losses and damages incurred as a result of or in conjunction with events that occurred on the territory of the present-day Republic of Austria during the Nazi era. Victims of National Socialism and their heirs could file claims for losses and damages in several categories, including liquidated businesses, insurance policies and occupational and educational losses. A three-person independent Claims Committee decided on the applications for compensation.
In rem restitution of real estate
An Arbitration Panel was also established with the General Settlement Fund to examine applications for in rem restitution of publicly-owned property. In this context, publicly-owned property constitutes property owned by the Republic of Austria and by the provinces and municipalities that have opted into the proceedings before the Arbitration Panel. The three-person independent Arbitration Panel decides on applications for in rem restitution.
The deadlines for filing applications for compensation of assets and in rem restitution have expired. The compensation of losses of assets has largely been completed by the General Settlement Fund; in rem restitution will be completed by 2018, after which the Fund will be closed down.
The Fund for the Restoration of the Jewish Cemeteries in Austria
In 2010 the National Council resolved the establishment of the Fund for the Restoration of the Jewish Cemeteries in Austria in order to implement Austria’s obligation under international law set out in the 2001 Washington Agreement to restore and preserve known and unknown cemeteries in Austria. Over a period of 20 years the Republic of Austria will allocate an annual amount of one million euros to the Fund for this purpose. The Law stipulates that the owners of the Jewish cemeteries provide funding for the restorations in the same amount as the Fund.
Applications can be filed with the Cemeteries Fund until the year 2030.
Common organs and management of the National Fund
The National Fund, the General Settlement Fund and the Jewish Cemeteries Fund all share the same organs “Board of Trustees” and “Secretary General”:
The supreme body of the Fund is the Board of Trustees, which is currently chaired by Doris Bures in her function as President of the National Council. Other members of the Board of Trustees include her two presidential deputies, Karlheinz Kopf and Ing. Norbert Hofer, Federal Chancellor Christian Kern and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Reinhold Mitterlehner. Twelve members are voted in by the Main Committee of the National Council. The members voted in by the Main Committee must be members of the National Council or the Federal Council, including former members of the National Council or the Federal Council, other esteemed figures of Austrian public, cultural or academic life or representatives of the victims. The first person to chair the Board of Trustees as President of the National Council was the incumbent Federal President Dr. Heinz Fischer; he was succeeded by Dr. Andreas Khol and Mag. Barbara Prammer.
The Secretary General, appointed by the President of the National Council following consultation with the President’s Conference of the National Council, assists the chairperson of the Board of Trustees with the day-to-day running of the National Fund. She prepares the resolutions and decisions for the Board of Trustees and is responsible for fostering relations between Austria and the victims of National Socialism living abroad. The Secretary General of all three Funds is Mag. Hannah Lessing.
The texts of the Federal Law on the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism, the Federal Law on the Establishment of a General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism and on Restitution Measures, and the Federal Law on the Establishment of a Fund for the Restoration of the Jewish Cemeteries in Austria can be found in the Republic’s legal information system (RIS):
- National Fund Law as amended (English translation)
- General Settlement Fund Law as amended (English translation)
- Jewish Cemeteries Fund Law as amended