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September 22, 2015 4:02 am

Austria Sends Jewish Historian to Jail After He Exposes Holocaust Crimes

avatar by Rafael Medoff / JNS.org

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The Queen Maria Theresia Monument in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Queen Maria Theresia Monument in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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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.

It took more than thirty years of international pressure and protests to finally bring about the establishment of the Austrian National Fund, which since 1995 has provided a very modest one-time payment of $5,700 each to approximately 28,500 Austrian-born Holocaust survivors around the world. Beginning in 2001, another $7,000 each was paid to about 20,000 survivors for the loss of property. Needless to say, these sums were in many cases but a small fraction of the value of the property that was confiscated.

All of which brings us to Stephan Templ, who together with his colleague Tina Walzer in 2001 authored a book called Unser Wein, or “Our Vienna.” The title mimicked the city’s official newsletter for tourists. The book’s subtitle: “Aryanization, Austrian-Style.”

In a devastating chapter on “The Topography of Robbery,” Templ and Walzer listed hundreds of Vienna businesses that were stolen from Jews, with no restitution paid. The list included many of the city’s most famous hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, pharmacies, and estates. The book named both former and current owners, thereby exposing a number of prominent Austrians who have been living on Jewish property that was either stolen outright or purchased at gunpoint for a pittance.

The Austrian government and public were outraged by the book. Templ was widely accused of trying to “undermine Austria.” The truth, of course, was that he had performed a great service by exposing those who were profiting from theft. But soon Templ would himself would become a victim.

In 2005, Templ filed a claim for restitution concerning a hospital to which his elderly mother was the rightful heir. Because of a long running feud between his mother and her sister, Templ did not list the sister’s name in his application. The matter no doubt could have been resolved by the family members in civil court. Instead, the Austrian government chose to prosecute Templ for “criminal fraud.” Convicted and sentenced to a one-year jail term, Templ’s appeals have been exhausted and his prison term is scheduled to commence shortly.

Some of Templ’s supporters say he is being victimized by government officials who want to punish him for what he wrote. Others believe he has simply been caught up in the complex and heartless bureaucracy that governs the Austrian restitution system. Either way, a brave whistleblower is about to spend the next year of his life behind bars.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of 15 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust.

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  • David Petrano

    My grandmother’s parents owned a dairy farm in Austria that was taken by the Nazis. In about 1950, when my grandmother sought return of her family farm, she was told by an Austrian judge to “go to Israel” b/c he was not authorized to return the farm to her. Grandma did not want to move to Israel b/c she believed Israel’s real purpose was to provide England and America a foothold in the region (Suez Canal and the surrounding oil rich countries), using the Israelis (displaced Jews) as soldiers in a proxy military for the benefit of England and America. Besides, she reasoned there was not enough land in Israel for her to own a dairy farm.
    Grandma has passed, but my entire family want to return to Austria and take our family farm back.

  • Forged in the fires of anti-semitism, I went to Austria a budding concert pianist and emerged a Jewess. I noticed that my Jewish Austrian friends did not notice what I did. Things that were unthinkable and outrageous for me were ‘normal’ for them. After 15 years of torture, I started to like the Austrians and the Viennese and to enjoy their beautiful country and city. (‘They don’t deserve it’ some say). I cannot say I despise the German-speaking people as a whole. They gave me Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler. They gave me indescribable beauty.

  • In Austria there is a law for EVERYthing, but one thing, HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER. The Nazis coached children to report on their parents. The Nazis teach children that they do not have to honour their parents. The Nazi boors teach ‘What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine too’. The Nazis teach that ‘Judaic law which builds a moral conscience is something not welcome in the German pagan way of life’. The Nazis are perfectly happy to watch people suffer. It is called ‘Schadenfreude’. They especially enjoy it if that person is caused to suffer for an infraction on a technicality. Nazis are not concerned with morality. They are concerned with Law, administered without justice nor mercy. The worship LAW, the one that THEY wrote, not the one given from On High.

  • Bethz

    I have to wonder what will happen to the next generation of people as all of Europe tries to forget the Holocaust? I believe that we’ll be back to where we are right now because it’s easy to say that it’s somebody else or someone else’s problem. Over 30 million people died in ww2 and only 6 million are remembered. My cousins family died in the camps just before he escaped. I know many others that had grandparents, aunts,uncles etc.. die in the Holocaust. Why aren’t we tired of massive amounts of death yet?

    • Thanks for Dr. Rafael Medoff’s excellent and chilling article!!

      Can some sort of International Petition be started on behalf of, and to support the wonderful and courageous Stephan Templ — so as to prevent such illegal act of great racial injustice on the part of the Austrian government from taking place?!!

      Freedom of Speech should remain Rule #1 throughout the world to say the least!!

      Thanks!!

      Béatrice Beer
      SOPRANO
      Robert McFarland, Personal Representative
      2028 South 17th Street
      Philadelphia, PA 19145-2902
      U.S.A.

  • report abust

    why is this anti-semitic comment not deleted?

  • Andrea Russel

    How dare you suggest the personal property of Jews was “stolen anyway”. This is a out & out lie. Everyone knows that the Jews were taken from their homes, their property looted & they were gassed. The movie Woman In Gold starring Dame Helen Mirren was about this subject. It’s the remarkable true story of one woman’s journey to reclaim her heritage and seek justice for what happened to her family & there would be plenty more like it. See the movie, get your facts straight & don’t make up lies about the Jewish people.

  • You are a liar to say that all properties that belonged to the Jewish were stolen .Those are lies told by Nazis !!!Shame on you !!!

  • Aviva Sucher

    I am a daughter of Holocaust Survivors. Mom was an Auschwitz survivor, most of her entire family was murdered in the Shoah, my father was a prisoner Hungarian Battalian slave, and he was the sole survivor of his family. What kind of insanity is this, on top of what this family has already suffered. To even consider jailing Stephen Templ for an omission on a document, while organizations have been pilfering billions of dollars meant for Holocaust Survivors. This is unjust and inhumane and must be reversed. To do this to a family who has already suffered the unimaginable.
    https://www.change.org/p/his-excellency-hans-peter-manz-president-heinz-fischer-free-stephan-templ?recruiter=32766473&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

  • With all due respect, 1 year in an Austrian jail is lenient. He´s not getting his head chopped off is he?

    • Andrea Russel

      “He´s not getting his head chopped off is he?”

      Sounds like you’d like him to. Shame on you. This man should never be imprisoned.

      • ‘When the families fight amongst one another, the ‘helpers’ get busy doing the wrong thing.’ while caring for my dying father on his deathbed at a home in the upper west side, I was coached by a holy man on how to free my father.

  • Eurabia has become very dangerous for Jews.

    LEAVE while you can.

    The memory of the Holocaust is still very vivid.

  • magier

    If somebody is interested in the true background of the story……. in german – http://kurier.at/chronik/wien/im-erbschaftskrimi-steht-bald-strafantritt-bevor/74.739.537

    it is a fight about legacy !

  • I lost a lot of my family in the holacaust. My mum escaped on the kindertransport from Vienna in 1937. After 70 years I took my mum back for a visit even though she was still afraid. We went ion a bus tour and was told by the tour guide that Vienna was liberated from the Russians by the Germans during ww2. I asked if we could go to the holacaust memorial but she said it was not on the itinery. She was booed by most of the tourists, not only for her pro German comment but for her refusal to stop at the memorial.
    My mum said that the anti Jew feeling was still there and did not want to go again. She lost everything to the Austrians, even her friends turned against her. She was in the crowd when hitler marched through the city and the adoration was frightening.
    After she died I arranged an appointment with the registrar to see if I could find out more about my family. I arrived at the appointed time to find he had gone on leave. I came away with no more information than I already had. That’s what the officials think about displaced Austria Jews.

  • Magier

    Justice is not fair – unfortunately it is that way! Austria is the only Country in the world where you face a jail time when you talk public positive about Hitler or say anything KZ related! (It is called “Wiederbetätigung” or if you trade with Nazi Symbols……. So you can continue to bash the Generation who was born loooooooong time past the WWII, or we can start to to look forward! Austria is a safe place for ANY Religion. Even this Accusations which are made here could lead to a Jail Time up to 2 Years…. (hate-speak) Lets look to US or other Countries, where actual Nazis are free to speak, act and put hate between the people. Acting that way – War and fighting in the world will never end!!

  • Tim

    Tina and Stephan are my neighbors and you will never meet nicer or classier people. I have lived in Vienna for two years and chatted with them on many, many occasions. I ran into Stephan briefly on 21 September and he was smiling and gave no indication of the issues him and Tina were going through. While I knew that Stephan was trying to regain some family property taken by the Nazis I did not understand how committed he was.

    They are special people and I have a lot of respect for the fight that they have taken on. I am proud to know them and consider them friends. We should all wish them the best. After watching The Woman in Gold recently I thought this kind of thing was all in the past – apparently I am naive.

  • Christine

    Unser Wien, not Wein.

  • Clive

    For an insight into the self righteous attitude of Austrians towards restitution for the Jewish victims of Nazis war crimes it is well worth watching the film “Woman in gold”.
    At least, for the most part, the Germans have accepted and taken responsibility for the Nazi evil, in contrast the Austrians seem to have a Nazi soul.

    • Andreas

      Dear Clive,

      Austria does indeed have a problematic past and for decades also with accepting responsibility for what happened. But I was born in 1969, how dare you to imply that all Austrians, that means me included, have Nazi souls. Your remark is no proof of high intellect, it is just a stupid generalization that doesn’t help anyone.

  • Adriaan Wiersma

    Niet te geloven. In deze tijd is dit zo dom, extreem en stupide; iemand hiervoor op te sluiten. Geef hem een lintje.
    Oostenrijkers, ik had jullie hoger geacht.
    Maak deze voorgenomen gevangenisstraf ongedaan Oostenrijkse politici, rechters en bureaucraten.
    Shalom

  • Mark Layton

    The Austrian nation should make a clear declaration of the errors of past rulers in this regard. That is the very least they could and should do.

  • Marsha Coleman

    This is an absolute travesty! So this man is being persecuted by the Austrian government AGAIN! This should be in every newspaper and reported on every news outlet to embarrass the Austrian government and show them for the Nazi’s they still are! Every single country in Europe is about to go down the drain where they belong! I hope every Jew leaves Europe and that nobody ever spends one dime as a tourist in that fascist hellhole.

  • Alon Reininger

    RIP-1088, wrong
    RIP 1988!
    family disappear all the way to Montevideo, the Bronx, Leeds, U.K & Israel
    Would I lie stating that i saw the tattoos with the numbers, pictures, heard the stories?

  • Paul Grad

    And we Americans are forced to defend these racist trashbags with our NATO tax dollars. Let these cheap bloodsuckers pay for their own NATO defense.

    • Will Gray

      Actually, Austria isn’t a NATO member at all — though one could argue that it benefits from the alliance’s defensive structures anyway.

    • Abaraba

      We Americans are also “racist trashbags” then. Is restitution coming to descendants of shipped slaves or Native Americans whose treaties were broken and their land stolen? Think hard before you reply reflexively…

    • Andreas

      all faults admitted, but please, as an american you should not take the moral high ground. near extinction of native american tribes, slavery, starting wars all over the world and let others deal with the consequences, regular police killings of afro-americans etc.
      also austria is a neutral country and not member of nato. so please get your general education up to normal standards before you let loose about other countries.

  • Alon Reininger

    My grandmother was a resident of Weiner Neustadt, killed by the Nazis in Terezenstadt camp, my gather’s family owned property, he got zip, a cousin was wasted in a ditch in Yugoslavia, running on the last train out of Vienna to Salonikli, Greece, trying to reach what was than Palestine, my father’s factory was burned by his Nazi employees, he ended his life getting a minute monthly some from the Austrian government, RIP-1088. Why did he get some payment if they never did a thing wrong? Why did my entire family, 5 brothers1 sister, disappear all the way to Montevideo, the Bronx, Israel? Why two uncles were in Dachau and Bergen Belzen? My father served honorably the Kaizer in WW1, why did he have to run from his home in 1933?

  • Haldane Rowan

    I believe we must always endeavour to be honest and respond to injustices caused by inhumanity to others. Look at the outcome of the huge issue that is unfolding because of inhumanity to people.

  • Bede

    Correction: The title of the book should read “Unser Wien” not “Unser Wein”, which would mean “Our Wine”.
    Great article, but this case shouldn’t go unchallenged… I am sure, there would be multitude of Jewish Organisation, including Govt. of Israel, that could intervene and not only stop the false-conviction, but also pursue the restitution claims further, until justice is finally met!!

  • brenrod

    lets face it, just a continuation of the same old same old… which is why I am not surprised that the ironic universe brings justice with a flood of honor killers.
    ADL is probably too busy defending against islamaphobia to come to the aid of a Jew subject to the classic Jew swindling, libel, abuse and torture by one of the perennial jew stalkers. I have not a shred of doubt as to what the anti semites are doing.

  • And then there was Kurt Waldheim …

  • Austria? Was the same Jew hating country like Germany. They was allom the street waiting for the German trup to arrive with a Hitler salute. Next day the Jews was washing the sidewalk of Wienna . I was socked when I was there and a girl said the red army was making Austrians a slaves. I said: I think they give U freedom from the naci Germany. She keeped quiet of course. With all this knowledge about Austria I still like that country. It’s unexplainable. But this is unjust what they doing right now. They shouldn’t keep personal property what’s not belong to them. And it’s such a pity thing to put somebody to jail for technicality.

  • Yeshayahu Goldfeld

    Austria should be ostracized by any decent human society for its persistence in rabid anti-Semitism .

  • Dr. Arthur Swedlow

    A patient of mine, who came from Vienna, had escaped from Austria into Switzerland.

    A wonderful, intelligent gentleman, he told me he would never trust anyone from Austria.

  • Luigi Rosolin

    Well wrote article: I had lived in Italy Veneto close to Austria 120 km away an had been visiting only once for racing formula one. I had to said that friend’s like that country and is beautiful. But as the article point out is very well know the population sympathy for the glory of past empire! That many citizen had support the Nazi and trucidate Jews is the realty. This man is certainly pay the price to expose the Austrian that still support they former Nazi and keep the stolen propriety and resourced taken away from Jews. I’m very sorry for all the Jews that are still persecute after so much suffering as they are negate justice and they goods.

  • Fred

    One should consider this, how most of European countries were victimised but it did not stop these Europeans to plunder the homes & businesses as soon as these Jews were driven out or before. How dare Templ tell the truth. I am still waiting for restitution after 70 years….and the persecution continues.

  • art frank

    What do you expect from a nation still populated by Jew haters. I remember seeing newsreels of the frenzied and adoring faces of the masses in Vienna when the nazi’s and their excremental leader marched in to take over. Austria: A nation living the big lie.

  • art

    with the increasing anti semitism and muslim inundation it will be what Jews? Oh yes those nasty people who robbed us. Jews are being robbed of our identity and birthright

  • marlene

    Austria already belongs to the world corporate oligarchy and did exactly what they will do to every other country that joins them.

  • enufizenuf

    Screw the Austrians. They’re WORSE than the Germans.
    At least the Germans are sort of rehabilitated, the Austrians are just as much Nazis as they ever were.

    • Andreas

      very intelligent remark.

  • dante

    the austrians are angry that they’ve been outed for their enthusiastic collaboration with nazi murder, plunder, rape & persecution. the only crime which can be partially redressed is the theft but the austrians are recalcitrant and resort to an elaborate web of lies and other deceptions.

    here’s the beauty part: while the austrians disguise their crimes and refuse compensation to the victims, they are vicious in their adamant condemnation of Israel for defending itself. [remember that, 75 yrs ago, all over austria, there were signs “Jews to Palestine.” now, the grandchildren of the murderers insist that the Jews have no right to their ancient Homeland. not a trace of insight. no self-awareness. no irony. just angry & arrogant hate.]

    the austrians are disgusting.

  • Myron Slater

    It’s just like the Austrian’s to deny the part the people took in the Holocaust! After all these years, they won’t take responsibility for helping the Nazis to kill their friends next door!

  • Jonathan Charnes

    Why did so many Nazi War Criminals go to South America when Austria was much closer and more sympathetic? Why is Israel expected to reimburse the Palestinians while the Austrians only have to make token payments to the Jews who owned a substantial part of Austria? The Hills are alive with the sound of Nazi thieves singing, there they will sing for a thousand years!
    Austria is proud of one of its own-Adolph Hitler! Ja

    • Jonathan Charnes

      Why did so many Nazi War Criminals go to South America when Austria was much closer and more sympathetic? Why is Israel expected to reimburse the Palestinians while the Austrians only have to make token payments to the Jews who owned a substantial part of Austria? The Hills are alive with the sound of Nazi thieves singing, there they will sing for a thousand years!
      Austria is proud of one of its own-Adolph Hitler! Ja

    • Hi Jonathan,
      Such a good message!

  • Chris Rettenmoser

    Austria is Hitlers birthplace…NOT BY ACCIDENT !

    • john

      …and bastard son of a Rothshild. Get a grip.

    • marcella wachtel

      Mr. Rottenmoser, I know you didn’t mean to be funny, but your comment made me laugh.

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