Holocaust Researchers Come to Jailed Austrian Activist’s Defense

Nazi-hunter Zuroff says imprisonment of Stephan Templ is 'typical of Austria.'

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Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff said Austria’s conduct in jailing the Jewish historian Stephan Templ was “so typical of Austria, which has not successfully prosecuted a Nazi war criminal in more than 30 years, but sends a Jewish scholar who exposed the theft of Jewish property by Austrians to jail on trumped up charges.”

Zuroff posted the comments on his Facebook page on Tuesday, a day after the Vienna-born Templ, 54, began serving a year-long sentence for “defrauding the state.” The court found Templ guilty of fraud for failing to report to his aunt that he had filed a restitution claim for his mother over a Vienna building confiscated from his family in 1938 when Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany.

Templ said his trial was “Kafkaesque and absurd,” and had been motivated by political and personal persecution because of his research and activities in restitution of Jewish property.

Zoroff is one of 75 leaders of the Jewish world, including prominent historians, who signed a letter of protest against Templ’s imprisonment, which was sent last month by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies to the Austrian Embassy in Washington.

“As scholars who have written or taught about the Holocaust or other genocides, we are deeply troubled by the impending imprisonment of an Austrian Jewish historian and journalist who exposed Austria’s failure to return Jewish property seized during the Nazi era,” the letter stated.

“The crime of which Mr. Templ has been convicted, and sentenced to one year in prison, was his omission of the name of an estranged relative from his application for the return of his family’s seized property. This matter could have been resolved by the Templ family in civil court. The Austrian government’s decision to intervene by prosecuting and jailing Mr. Templ will be seen as an extreme overreaction to Mr. Templ’s important book, "Our Vienna: Aryanization Austrian-Style," which criticized Austria’s policy concerning the restitution of Jewish property. Please convey to President Heinz Fischer our urgent request that he reconsider his rejection of Mr. Templ’s appeal against his prison sentence,” the letter stated.

The American-Jewish historian Dr. Rafael Madoff, also a signatory to the letter, wrote in a recent article "[T]here are grounds to fear that he is being punished for exposing Austria’s failure to return seized property to its Jewish owners.”