A Gesture of Respect and Solidarity
For fifty-five years, the fate of the former slave and forced laborers who suffered such grave injustice on the territory of the present-day Republic of Austria during the Third Reich was not regarded as Austria's problem. Today, there is a broad consensus that our country also has a moral responsibility to this group of victims, not least of all because of the complicity of large numbers of Austrians. In the first instance, this publication sets out to provide a detailed account of this gesture of respect and solidarity toward the former slave and forced laborers. However, this gesture also became a deeply humanitarian act, because until then, these victims of the Nazi regime had also been forgotten and sometimes even persecuted in their home countries.
At the same time, this publication also renders account. The Austrian Reconciliation Fund was originally endowed with six billion schillings, partly financed by taxes and partly by financial contributions from the Austrian business community. This publication enables taxpayers and the Austrian companies who participated to inform themselves once again about how these funds were used.
Only a few days after I took office as Austrian Chancellor in 2000, the former president of the Austrian National Bank, Dr. Maria Schaumayer, was appointed Special Government Representative for the Settlement of Slave and Forced Labor Related Issues. In less than five months, she successfully concluded the necessary international negotiations with a series of states, victims' associations and organizations, and drew up the draft for the so-called Reconciliation Fund Law. This was then unanimously passed by the two houses of the Austrian parliament, the Nationalrat and Bundesrat, in July 2000.
The Austrian Reconciliation Fund was constituted on December 20, 2000, and on the same day, Ambassador Dr. Steiner was appointed Chairman of the Committee and Ambassador Dr. Wotava Secretary General. Immediately afterward, the Fund commenced its work.
This approach enabled the Fund to make the best possible use of the period before the guarantee of legal peace upon which payments had been made conditional was given. On July, 31 2001, only three hours after I confirmed to the Fund that legal peace had been attained, instructions were given to the relevant bank to transfer payments to more than 20,000 former slave and forced laborers.
This sent a powerful message to the international public that Austria had only had to wait for the elimination of the final legal obstacles before it could start making symbolic payments to the former slave and forced laborers.
Since then, such symbolic payments totaling more than 352 million euros have been made to over 130,000 former slave and forced laborers.
As the Austrian Reconciliation Fund will still have money left over once it has completed its work, this will be used for other acts of redress in connection with the injustices perpetrated during Nazi rule on the territory of the present-day Republic of Austria. This includes a significant amount of money that has already been made available in the form of advance payments to the Fund's six partner organizations in Central and Eastern Europe for humanitarian, but in particular for medical projects benefiting former slave and forced laborers.
The efficient but also humane manner in which the Reconciliation Fund Law was implemented by the Fund and its highly motivated staff have won Austria a great deal of goodwill.
I would therefore like to express my warmest thanks to all those who have helped us fulfill this task, be it by providing financial resources or through their work at the Reconciliation Fund.
Dr. Wolfgang Schüssel,
Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria