Jailed Jewish-Austrian historian proves he did not commit restitution fraud

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) – A Jewish-Austrian historian who is in jail for omitting his aunt from a Holocaust-restitution application presented proof that he had duly informed the state of her existence.

The lawyer for Stephan Templ, a historian whom Austria jailed last year for defrauding it by omitting his aunt from his mother’s 2005 application, presented to JTA several documents dated 2002, in which he did name his aunt. He also provided confirmation this information was received and processed by Austrian officials.

According to Templ’s lawyer, the human rights attorney Robert Amsterdam, the newly-recovered documents mean Templ was prosecuted and convicted under false pretenses.

“After years of denials and refusals, Mr. Templ’s legal team was finally granted access to view documents which conclusively prove that the Austrian Authorities had knowledge of Mr. Templ’s aunt,” Amsterdam wrote in a Feb. 9 statement titled “Austria continues to hold wrongfully imprisoned author.”

Queried by JTA, the Austrian justice ministry declined to answer whether it intends to review the conviction.

The Anti-Defamation League and 75 Holocaust scholars have implored Austrian authorities to avoid jailing Templ, noting the decision to do so seems connected to his 2001 book, “Our Vienna,” in which he criticized the country’s perceived failures to offer restitution for property stolen from Jews by Austrians and Germans during World War II.

The documents were discovered in the offices of the General Settlement Fund in central Vienna by Templ’s legal team on Dec. 22, 2015, three years after they first began asking to view them.

“It’s time to end this reprehensible farce,” Amsterdam said. “We have a situation here where Austria acknowledges these thefts by the Nazi regime, but then jails the victim of the theft, despite the absence of any damaged party. It is difficult not to see shades of retrograde official anti-Semitism in this case.”

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