BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Friday, 14 April, 2000, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Austria faces billion-dollar Holocaust suit
The Nazis forced millions to work as slave labourers
Lawyers seeking compensation for Holocaust victims have filed a lawsuit in the United States for $18bn compensation from Austria.

The suit seeks damages from the Austrian state and industry for both former slave workers and people whose property and belongings were seized because they were Jewish.

Michael Witti, a member of a legal team representing Jewish victims of Nazism, said the lawsuit was aimed at putting pressure on Austrian firms and the government.

Settlement negotiations have not made enough progress, he said.

German lawsuits

Correspondents say that other suits by private U.S. attorneys helped force Germany to the bargaining table.

The lawsuit against Austria came on the day that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder presented a bill to parliament for the creation of a $5bn dollar fund to compensate Nazi-era slave and force labourers.

Auschwitz camp
The suit seeks damages for people forced to work as slave labourers
The suit targets some 80 Austrian industrial firms and banks, such as privatisation agency OeiAG, and Dorotheum, Austria's state-owned auction house.

The move comes at a time when Austria is faced with diplomatic isolation following the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the Austrian Government.

"With the current environment in Austria, it was necessary for us to articulate the breadth, nature and extent of the legal claims that must be addressed if Austria is ever to get legal peace for Holocaust-related claims," said Ed Fagan, a New-York based lawyer who filed the suit.

Austria's new coalition government has appointed a special official to work on compensation payments to forced labourers.

But the official has not yet dealt with the issue of compensating people whose property was seized by the Nazis.

Quick payments

The Austrian Government has said it wants to compensate slave labourers quickly.

But the US has asked the Austrian authorities to address the issue of compensation for seized property at the same time.

However, the Austrian authorities criticised the lawsuit, saying it would be quicker to compensate slave labour claims before moving on to compensation for stolen property.

"I don't have the ambition to deal with Fagan now," said Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, lead of the conservative People's Party.

"Austria has offered a gesture to the victims," he said.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Europe Contents

Country profiles
See also:

21 Mar 00 | Europe
Gross symbolises Austria's past
17 Dec 99 | Europe
End to slave labour battle
14 Dec 99 | Europe
Nazi slave fund 'agreed'
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories