The closing payments of the General Settlement Fund
On 7 July 2009, the Board of Trustees of the General Settlement Fund, to which both the presidency of the National Council and representatives of the Federal Government, as well as victims' associations and representatives of the religious communities belong, unanimously determined the final payment quotas. These quotas regulate the shares of the established losses which will de facto be disbursed.
In total, claims amounting to approximately 1.5 billion US Dollars were recognized by the independent Claims Committee. As the claimed amounts ascertained from all applications reach a total substantially higher than the 210 million dollars prescribed by the Washington Agreement, each applicant can only receive an aliquot share of his/her claim. This amounts to 10.56 percent in the claims-based process, 20.74 percent for insurance policies and17.16 percent in the equity-based process. The closing payments constitute the last payment to be received by the victims of National Socialism or their heirs from the General Settlement Fund.
With the closing payment, those applicants who have already received an advance payment (this amounted to 10 percent in the claims-based process and 15 percent for insurance policies and in the equity-based process) will now receive the balance of the determined payment quotas. Consequently, the closing payment for persons who have already received an advance payment is small, as the quotas for the advance payment were very close to those which have now been conclusively determined. Applicants who have not yet received an advance payment will receive payments in compliance with the payment quotas which have now been determined.
In carrying out the closing payments from the General Settlement Fund, as with the advance payments, older applicants who were directly affected by National Socialist persecution and property seizure will be prioritized.
It was originally stipulated that the distribution of the means of the General Settlement Fund only be carried out when all applications had been decided. With the completion of "legal closure" and a corresponding amendment to the law (Federal Law Gazette I 142/2005) the first "initial payments" (advance payments) could be carried out in 2005. So far, around 14,000 applicants and 4,000 heirs, whose applications have already been decided, have subsequently received early compensation payments.
For the purpose of a further acceleration of the proceedings before the General Settlement Fund, the amendment to the General Settlement Fund Law (Federal Law Gazette I no. 54/2009), enacted on 1 July 2009 now enables the closing payments to be rendered prior to the decision of all applications.
In order not to further delay the closing payments for the applicants, many of whom are advanced in years, due to these complex cases, all fractions of the Board of Trustees agreed to immediately order the disbursement of the closing payments for all cases decided by the cut off day 1st July 2009. The payment quotas were determined on the basis of the decisions reached by the Claims Committee thus far.
The General Settlement Fund, established on the basis of the Washington Agreement (Federal Law Gazette I no. 12/2001) by law has the task of comprehensively resolving open questions of compensation for victims of National Socialism and recognizing through ex gratia payments Austria's moral responsibility for property losses suffered by victims of the National Socialist regime in Austria between 1938 and 1945. Those property losses which until now had not been taken into account, or had only been inadequately compensated by means of previous Austrian restitution or compensation measures are a priority.
Applications for monetary compensation can be filed with the General Settlement Fund in two different processes in ten distinct categories of property:
- Liquidated businesses, including licenses and other business assets
- Immovable property, unless an in rem restitution pursuant to the General Settlement Fund Law has been granted
- Bank accounts
- Moveable property
- Insurance policies
- Occupational and educational losses
- Other losses and damages
By the expiry of the application deadline in May 2003 a total of 120,000 individual claims had been filed by 20,700 applicants. The categories "liquidated businesses" and "occupational and educational losses", for which sufficient compensation measures had not yet existed, constitute the primary areas in which losses were claimed.
The submitted claims were researched, legally processed and individually assessed by the staff of the General Settlement Fund, and for each claim a decision was prepared for the independent, internationally composed Claims Committee.
In comparison with other national or international compensation measures, according to which only few categories of assets could be claimed or the compensation took place in the form of a lump sum payment, the terms of reference for the individual payments for damages in ten categories are incomparably more complex. Around 70,000 different documents were obtained by the General Settlement Fund from across Austria in order to assess and document the losses. The large majority of these documents, around 46,500, originated from Viennese archives, the remainder from other cooperative departments. Among others, in 12,000 cases information on insurance policies was obtained.
In addition to the establishment of the General Settlement Fund, the Washington Agreement, along with the Agreement on the Austrian Fund "Reconciliation, Peace and Cooperation" (Reconciliation Fund) from the year 2000, contains a package of restitution and compensation measures. In addition to the Reconciliation Fund, which was endowed with 436 million Euro for the compensation of so called slave and forced laborers, 150 million US Dollars were made available pursuant to para. 2b of the National Fund Law (for the compensation of seized tenancy rights, household effects and personal valuables) and additional social measures were implemented specifically for victims of National Socialism.