Austria Sends Jewish Historian to Jail After He Exposes Holocaust Crimes
JNS.org – An Austrian Jewish historian and journalist named Stephan Templ is scheduled to soon begin serving a year in government prison. Officially, he is accused of misrepresenting information in his family’s application for restitution as victims of Nazism. But there are grounds to fear that he is being punished for exposing Austria’s failure to return seized property to its Jewish owners.
Templ’s story is entangled in the troubling history of Austria’s resistance to paying restitution and returning property. Since the day World War II ended, Austrians have claimed that they were not partners of the Nazis but were actually “the first victims of Nazism.”
This attitude was most memorably reflected in a dispute that erupted during the filming of the movie “The Sound of Music” in Salzburg in 1964. Part of the story takes place after the Nazis had taken over Austria, so the filmmakers wanted to display Nazi flags on the homes in those scenes. The Salzburg authorities initially refused to permit the flags to be filmed, lest it appear that the town had willingly sided with the Nazis. They relented only after the producers threatened to use actual newsreel footage that showed the cheering crowds which greeted Hitler and his army when they marched into Austria in 1938.
By maintaining the “we-were-victims-too” fiction, the Austrians created a kind of loophole to avoid paying restitution. Because if Austria was a victim, it was helpless to prevent the Nazis from persecuting the Jews, and therefore could not be held legally or financially responsible for making amends now.
Attempts by Jewish organizations to persuade postwar Austrian governments to consider paying restitution ran into a stone wall of opposition. At one 1953 meeting, after Austrian Chancellor Julius Raab complained about Austria’s alleged victimization, World Jewish Congress chairman Nahum Goldmann sarcastically remarked, “Yes, Herr Chancellor, that is why I have come to ask you how much money the Jews owe the Austrians.”
In 1962, the Austrian government finally agreed to one token payment of just $22-million to some Holocaust survivors; but it also provided compensation to some former Nazi officials.
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