Historical Background

Confiscation of property under NS-Regime

The systematic disfranchisement and persecution of Austrian Jews began immediately after the National Socialists came to power in Austria. The flight, expulsion, deportation and murder of Jews were closely linked to their forced expropriation by National-Socialist authorities with the participation of the population. The systematic confiscation of property was initiated by the Ordinance on the Registration of Jewish Property dated April 26, 1938. Consequently, all Jews owning assets worth more than 5,000 Reichmarks were forced to declare all of their property with the National-Socialist Jewish Property Declaration Office and register all subsequent changes to their assets.
With the help of innumerable additional ordinances and laws, the National-Socialist authorities obtained access over time to all of the property assets of Austrian Jews and deprived them of any and all foundation for their continued existence even before their subsequent expulsion and deportation.

Focus 1: Looting of works of art

A number of mechanisms used by the National Socialists to confiscate property lurk behind the terms "art theft" and "looted art". The expropriation of objects of art and cultural assets was administrated by means of ordinances and NS laws and carried out by means of a number of organizations and institutions. They were seized by the Gestapo, prevented from being taken abroad by the Central Office for Monument Protection/Institute for Monument Preservation, confiscated by the tax authorities or secured by the Municipality of Vienna. On the other hand, Jews were also forced to sell their possessions on the art market at knockdown prices.

The variety of possibilities for expropriating works of art and the large number of involved persons has made it often difficult to retrace the history of expropriated objects today. Research efforts to determine the origin and the whereabouts of looted works of art and cultural assets are being carried out, among other things, by the Commission for Provenance Research established in 1998.

Focus 2: Expropriation of Real Estate

The National-Socialist regime employed a various array of instruments for confiscating real estate assets. These seizures were not always carried out by means of an official decision (seizure, asset confiscation, asset deterioration), but were in most cases camouflaged by contracts of sale, sometimes by forced judicial sales, gifts and inheritance. Many owners were forced by discriminating National-Socialist taxes to sell their real estate at far below its actual value.

As in Austria owners of real estate are recorded in the Land Register, asset seizures during the National-Socialist era, ownership transfers and restitution after 1945 can be specifically traced in most cases. In the first few years after the war, victims of National-Socialism or their descendants were able to file claims for the restitution of seized real estate pursuant to the restitution acts (Legal Foundations).
After the conclusion of the State Treaty (1955) two Collection Agencies for "heirless" assets, as unclaimed assets were termed, were set up. The Collection Agencies filed restitution claims for the real estate that had remained unclaimed thus far, which is why only a small portion of the seized real estate was in fact unaffected by any restitution and/or settlement agreements after 1945.

The restitution proceedings were concluded with the issuing of a decision or findings or the reaching of a settlement between the restitution claimant and the restitution defendant. The research carried out by the Historical Commission of the Republic of Austria has shown that the measures taken in this manner were often to the detriment of the then-persecuted restitution claimant. The compensation and restitution negotiations that took place in Washington in January 2001 are to be seen in this context: The Washington Accord (Legal Foundations) made it possible, in consideration of certain criteria, for claims to be made for in rem restitution of those real estate/land properties and buildings on third-party owned land in Austria, seized between March 12, 1938, and May 9, 1945 and publicly owned as of January 17, 2001. Jewish community organizations are also entitled to claim in rem restitution of tangible moveable objects (in particular cultural or religious objects) under the same criteria. The independent Arbitration Panel for in rem Restitution (Schiedsinstanz für Naturalrestitution), set up by the Settlement Fund Act (Legal Foundations), issues decisions on claims for in rem restitution.