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Jan 2006 Journal

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Austrial General Settlement Fund: A step closer

In a ruling last November, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the last Holocaust-era class action brought against the Austrian government for the appropriation of Jewish-owned assets during the Holocaust. At the time of going to press, it appears that one of the final obstacles preventing the distribution of payments from the General Settlement Fund (GSF) has been cleared, setting the stage for the release of $210 million under the terms of the Washington Agreement of 2001.

However, while representatives of the plaintiffs in the class action (Whiteman v Republic of Austria) have agreed to the voluntary dismissal of their case, one plaintiff, taking separate legal advice, is refusing to accept the case's dismissal. The final resolution of the litigation is therefore not expected before next month at the earliest.

The case was discharged in accordance with the legal principle of 'political question doctrine', which overrules the interests and demands of individual plaintiffs. The ruling states that the US government-negotiated GSF is a superior method of resolving claims than litigation. The ruling also reflects US foreign policy interests, which may be damaged by continuing litigation.

In his summation, Judge Cabranes of the Court of Appeals noted that it would be 'impossible' to allow the litigation to proceed 'without expressing lack of the respect due the Executive Branch'. He continued: 'The agreement will provide benefits to more victims, and will do so faster and with less uncertainty, than litigation' and added that 'because many victims are elderly and dying, it is important to bring some measure of justice to Holocaust survivors in their lifetimes.'

Significantly, Judge Cabranes concluded: 'Leaving litigation as the sole alternative will likely lead to disputes between survivors and Austria and its industries which will likely embroil the US and set back its relations with the Austrian government.'

While the Austria National Fund, which is processing around 200,000 individual claims to the GSF from approximately 19,000 applicants, is prepared to make advance payments from the Fund, no monies can be distributed until an end to litigation on this matter.
Michael Newman

previous article:'Making a Difference': Holocaust Memorial Day, January 2006
next article:Albert Einstein, Man of the Century (review)