Austria compensates payments to Holocaust victims

Austria took a first step Thursday toward starting compensation payments to Holocaust victims following the clearing of legal hurdles that have caused years of delay. In 2001, Austria created the General Settlement Fund to compensate Holocaust victims who were robbed of businesses, property, bank accounts and insurance policies during the Nazi era, when they country was annexed to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

But payments were delayed because of pending legal action in the United States against Austria due to Vienna's insistence that "legal closure" must be achieved before the payment process can begin. That hurdle was cleared last month with the termination of the last such case, when a New York court threw out sections of a class action lawsuit targeting Austria.

On Thursday, the fund mailed letters to 100 of the 19,300 Holocaust survivors who have applied for compensation payments. The letters state the amount the victims will receive along with a waiver they must sign and return, said Hannah Lessing, general secretary of the fund.

"This is the first step in payment," Lessing told The Associated Press. "Now the first payments can be made in the next 10 days." Earlier this year, the government and Austrian companies pledged to pay US$210 million (Ђ175 million) to endow the fund once all court cases against Austria relating to the Holocaust are resolved, reports the AP. N.U.

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