Vienna Says Will Grant Citizenship to Descendants of Austrian Holocaust Victims

Austrian government says 200,000 people would be eligible in plan aimed at building trust with Israel amid criticism of coalition partners' Nazi roots

Ofer Aderet
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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, Austria, December 19, 2017
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Vienna, Austria, December 19, 2017Credit: Leonhard Foeger / Reuters
Ofer Aderet

Shortly after the new right-leaning Austrian government was sworn into office on Monday, officials have announced a number of trust-building steps they will take in order to improve relations with Israel and the Jewish people. This comes after the Israeli government announced that it will limit its diplomatic contacts with the cabinet in Vienna due to coalition members' anti-Semitic roots.

According to the new Austrian government's work plans, they will give citizenship to the relatives of Austrian victims of the Holocaust.

Haaretz has found that at this time, there are no further details regarding this plan, and criteria for the plan have yet to be established. The implications of this plan are also unclear, as it is currently possible in certain situations for families of those stripped of Austrian citizenship during the Nazi regime to regain their citizenship.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that the plan would grant approximately 200 thousand people with Austrian citizenship, adding that not all of those eligible would necessarily be interested in this option.

The new government also announced that a memorial for 10,000 Vienna Jews who were murdered at the Trostinets camp near the Belarusian capital Minsk will be erected as "a clear commitment to Austria's historical responsibility and complicity" in the Holocaust, Austrian Kurz said. In total, around 200,000 people were murdered there, including Jews from Vienna.

In addition to these two decisions, the Austrian government announced that their work plan includes a 2018 event to memorialize the 80th anniversary of the "anschluss," or the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938. "We want to remember those who suffered due to this event, and to communicate a clear message against anti-Semitism.

On Monday, Strache repeated his announcement regarding his commitment to the fight against anti-Semitism, saying that "my party will participate in the European fight against anti-Semitism."

The government's work plan also added that Austria recognizes Israel as "a Jewish state" and supports Israel's security interests. Before his appointment to the position of vice chancellor, he said that he will support moving the Austrian Embassy to Jerusalem, however this announcement does not have practical implications at this time.

Until the 1980s, Austria mainly saw itself as a victim of annexation by Nazi Germany, rather than a willing accomplice. Since then, governments have made greater efforts to deal with Austria's dark legacy. However, regarding other issues including compensation for property confiscated during the period, some say that not enough has been done.

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