Welcoming Viennese Jews Back Home

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Welcoming Viennese Jews Back Home
4
The Vienna Review
May 2013
News
Austria Briefs
No Second kidnapper
Wolfgang Priklopil, the man who abducted Natascha Kampusch and imprisoned her
for eight years, “almost certainly” acted alone,
as Jörg Ziercke, president of the ­German
criminal police BKA stated when presenting
a special investigator’s report.
A woman claimed to have seen a second
person pull Kampusch into Priklopil’s van,
but was found to be “objectively mistaken”,
said Ziercke. The FBI supported the committee that revisited the Kampusch case.
They found no evidence that Priklopil had
any connection to a child pornography ring
or S&M circles and also confirmed that the
abductor had committed suicide.
However, the report also highlighted mistakes and misjudgements in parts of the investigation, among them the fact that clues
found soon after the kidnapping pointed to
Priklopil as a suspect, but had not been followed up. Natascha Kampusch was not questioned again for the report.
Five euro bill 2.0
The new five euro bill will be the first one
Photo: ECB
to enter circulation on 2 May
In May, a cashier could surprise you with
a new €5 bill in your change. The new paper
money will be brought into circulation on 2
May in Austria and throughout the eurozone.
The modernised bills have been planned
for years and were developed to tackle insufficient security and to keep the bills stateof-the-art.
The new hologram and watermark shows
Europa, the figure from Greek mythology,
and the digit changes from dark green to deep
blue when the bill is tilted. The design has
not changed much: The grey colour remains,
along with the imaginary buildings symbolising unity between member states.
Once a year, new bills will replace the old
ones and be brought into circulation. After an
undefined time period, the original bills will
lose their status as legal tender, but can be exchanged at banks at any time.
Daily gym class in schools
On 18 April, the initiative for more exercise for children and youth, called Tägliche
Turnstunde (Daily Gym Class), brought to
life by the Bundessportorganisation (BSO,
Federal Sports Organisation), succeeded
by gaining 150,844 signatures in favour of
­making a daily hour of physical exercise in
schools mandatory.
On 24 April, the Tägliche Turnstunde was
already a fixture in full-time schools, and they
also adopted Austrian Minister of Education
Claudia Schmied’s ten-point programme of
desired changes.
From the get-go, politicians strongly
sympathised with the idea, initiated by the
president of the BSO, Peter Wittmann.
All 183 parliament members signed for it
in October 2012, and Chancellor Werner
Faymann, President Heinz Fischer, as well
as numerous ministers and other important
personalities in politics, sports and media
supported the effort.
According to the BSO, an hour of daily physical exercise not only improves the
health of Austria’s youth, but also will create
26,000 jobs.
The new law has led to the formation of
a focus group comprised of members of the
BSO and the Ministry of Education, and
the BSO is discussing specifics with Chancellor Faymann.
Austria
The Jewish Welcome Service brings back Holocaust survivors and families to tell their stories
Welcoming Viennese Jews Back Home
by Matthias Wurz
“I was there when the Nazis came and took
over,” says Marion Wolff, her sonorous, calm
voice resounding through one of the plain classrooms of the Berufsschule für Verwaltungsberufe
on Castelligasse in the 5th District. She was
eight when the Wehrmacht crossed the border
into Austria in March 1938.
And now here she is, 75 years later, speaking
to some 40 students in their final year of training
to become civil servants, who have come to the
Zeitzeugengespräch on 15 April – a presentation
by “contemporary witnesses” organised by the
Vienna-based non-profit, the Jewish ­Welcome
Service (JWS).
For a moment, the 83-year-old Holocaust survivor collects her thoughts. She seems far younger
than her years, and her youthful eyes rest on some
of the students, who are watching her closely, each
generation clearly intrigued by the other. Despite
the difficult memories, Wolff smiles, as she continues: “Many Austrians welcomed the Nazis in
the streets with flowers. I was there, I saw them.”
The spacious classroom walls are covered
with posters the students have created, portraying the victims of Nazi rule. They have researched facts and figures, matching names to
faces and giving them identity on paper. But the
17-year-olds could not have been prepared for
the heartbreaking and personal life story Wolff
is about to share with them.
Marion Wolff, née Pollak, was an only
child, living with her widowed mother, when
she escaped National Socialism on the first
­Kindertransport to the United Kingdom on 10
December 1938. She left Vienna along with 600
other children – with the identification number
“211” on a string around her neck.
As she begins to speak, Wolff rises to her feet
and a white badge falls free from her clothing.
It is her ID card, with the “211” faded but still
legible, the reminder of the strenuous and dangerous journey across Europe. She holds up the
cardboard square and smiles.
The JWS invited Marion Wolff to speak about
being on the Kindertransport Photo: M. Wurz
Escaping Vienna in 1938
There is no bitterness in Wolff’s voice as she
talks of these traumas. Instead, her tone is one
of gratitude.
“We lucky few” is how she refers to the child
survivors – also the title of her talk. Between
­December 1938 and September 1939, the U.K.based Refugee Children’s Movement brought
10,000 refugee children from Germany, Austria
and Czechoslovakia into the U.K., aged two to
seventeen – the vast majority of them Jewish.
Most of the 10,000 Kindertransport children
never saw their parents again. Many were the
sole survivors in their families and were raised
by foster parents in Great Britain.
Wolff was luckier: She was placed with a
kindly Quaker family in York and was able to
maintain a correspondence with her mother,
who later followed her to the U.K.. In 1960, she
moved to the United States, where she met her
husband, himself a German emigré.
But those first months in England were difficult, and her native language deteriorated.
“Within nine months, I lost all my German,”
she says. “Each letter to my mother had fewer German and more English words. She had to translate
them with a dictionary.” She opens a folder and
pulls out the letters wrapped in plastic, handing
them to the students, who are clearly fascinated.
w austrians keep their secrets
Continued from front page
of existing bank secrecy laws, Austria and Luxemburg insisted on an exception. Now that Luxemburg bowed to pressure, Austria’s bank secrecy,
alone, remains in force. But the government “can’t
set conditions for something they already said yes
to,” Krainer stressed.
Currently, Austria does not deliver account
data to foreign authorities. Instead, banks deduct
taxes at the source (Quellensteuer) and deliver
them to the Finanzamt (Revenue ­Office), without
indicating the identity of the account holder to
the party’s country of residence. This deduction is
included in their income tax declaration.
A precedent was set in July 2006, that not
every foreign financial criminal procedure merits
a breach of Austrian Bank secrecy. Only an Austrian court can require account information, regardless of whether the account holder is Austrian or not, or whether or not they are residents.
Bank secrecy is anchored in the Austrian
Constitution. Therefore, disclosure of information to any authority whatsoever (as is customary in Germany) constitutes a criminal offense. If
authorities like the Austrian National Bank come
across information to which bank secrecy laws
apply, bank secrecy is understood as mandatory,
an exercise of professional confidentiality.
Drama in Dublin
French finance minister Pierre Moscovici led
the call for reforms in Dublin on 12 April, supported by Germany’s Wolfgang Schäuble, Great
Britain’s George Osbourne and their counterparts
from Poland, Spain and Italy.
Austria “will fight for bank secrecy,” insisted finance minister Maria Fekter the next day,
stressing that the country “is not a tax haven.”
After significant pressure from Brussels and
EU Commissioner for Taxation Algirdas Šemeta,
Austria agreed in April to loosen the reigns on
bank secrecy. But the country wishes to remain
an exception on two fronts: the right to maintain
special banking relations with Switzerland and to
not report Austrian citizens’ accounts.
Commission pressure stems in part from hopes
that Austria’s come-around would initiate discussions with Switzerland over the exchange of information. EU commissioner Šemeta stressed that
the draining of other tax oases “should be another
argument for Austria to make a move.”
Minister Fekter and Chancellor Faymann are
beginning to share secrets Photo: Robert Jäger/APA
Fekter, Faymann, Fischer
In Dublin, Fekter complained of unfair treatment, citing tax havens like those in the British
Isles and Gibraltar. “What applies to a small island (Cyprus) should also apply to the big island
(Great Britain), for all areas where European laws,
for instance British law, is exercised,” she said, following a council session on 13 April.
A compromise for Austria – keeping bank
secrecy for Austrian citizens but adhering to new
regulations – would only be plausible if bilateral
agreements made with Switzerland and Liechtenstein remain intact, she went on, stressing that data
swaps alone were not an efficient way of fighting
Bank Secrecy Lingo
• Banking secrecy: No reporting of income to the
ministry of finance without a court order.
• Anonymity: lifted for savings accounts in 2002.
• Automatic information exchange: reporting on
EU citizens’ income to their home governments.
Currently under negotiation for non-Austrians.
• Authority aid law (Amtshilfegesetz): Automatic reporting by Austria on salary, annuity and rental
income of other EU citizens; coming in 2014.
• Withholding tax (Quellensteuer): 35% of ­interest
earned by EU citizens is anonymously delivered
to their home countries.
•C
apital gains tax (KESt) : 25% of interest earned
by Austrians goes to the treasury.
Reconnecting with home
Marion Wolff and her husband Paul were
visiting from the United States for a week, following the invitation from JWS.
Founded in 1980 by a group including thenmayor of Vienna, Social Democrat Leopold
Gratz and ­Holocaust survivor Leon Zelman, the
JWS assists ­Holocaust survivors and their relatives in visiting their former home. Twice a year
since 1989, some 3,500 people in all have taken
advantage of the opportunity.
For most of this year’s 70 participants – from
Argentina, Mexico, the U.S., U.K. and Israel – it
is an emotional experience: A sightseeing tour
around Vienna, a visit to the Jewish Cemetery
at the Zentralfriedhof, as well as counselling
at ESRA (Hebrew for “help”) – established in
1994 as a service for Holocaust survivors and
their families.
The busy agenda also included meetings
with Austrian politicians, beginning with a
Wiener Jause on 16 April with Andreas MailathPorkorny, city councillor for cultural affairs, in
the Senatssitzungssaal of the Rathaus. The invitation “is not just a gesture of reconciliation,
but represents an effort in keeping recollections
of the darkest part of Austria’s history alive,”
Mailath-Pokorny said over traditional Melange
and Sachertorte.
“We would like to build bridges – also to the
next generation. To show our Jewish guests that
today’s Vienna is also their home, as it had been
for hundreds of thousands of their ancestors before National Socialism.”
At the school, Marion Wolff concludes her
talk by sharing her feelings of her first time back
in Vienna after the war. It was 12 years ago:
“It was a terrible experience,” she tells her
listeners. “I felt I had to get out of there immediately.” But as she looks out over the students’
faces, her tone softens, and her voice becomes
more confident:
“This is the third generation, and hopefully
Vienna is quite different now.”
¸
tax evasion. “A withholding tax (Quellensteuer) is a
much more efficient instrument,” she said.
After many delays, on 27 April, Chancellor
Werner Faymann announced that Austria would
loosen its bank secrecy regulations. “We want to
promote an outcome in the interest of fighting
corruption in Europe,” he told the Austrian national broadcaster ORF, adding that it would be
more harmful for Austria to have a reputation for
protecting swindlers.
After much debate among coalition members, the government presented a preliminary
proposal on 26 April, which provides for information exchange on the accounts of foreigners
but ensures that bank secrecy for Austrian citizens stays intact. This solution gained the support of President Heinz Fischer, who called it “a
contribution to greater justice.”
Is Austria hindering the banking union?
The EU’s Šemeta and the finance ministers
fear Austria’s resistance will hinder the process
of forming an EU-wide banking union. While
Germany stressed the need for a single overseer,
namely the European Central Bank, it conceded that supervision could go forward without
a unified change in monetary policy. Minister
Schäuble also noted that setting up EU institutions to share the burden of restructuring and
closing banks will require changes to the EU
treaty. This could however affect the legal basis
of the banking supervision system once it goes
into effect in 2014, regardless of any unified
monetary policy.
Šemeta sees Austria’s position as vital to
progress on an EU level. “We have two important dates coming up: The council of finance
ministers on 14 May and the EU summit on 22
May,” he said, stressing the need for “strong political pressure on Austria to make a decision to
move forward. Especially in light of how Luxemburg has moved.”
The proposal suggests that a union affecting
international transactions may be possible without
changing Austria’s constitution. And regardless of
the outcome of the talks in May, Austrian politicians appear to understand the need for unified
transparency policies to prevent corruption.
If the Alpine Republic wants to be an exception, it may need to abandon its own tradition of
leisure when it comes to fiscal decision-making.
After all, it’s not just private Sparbücher on the
line this time, but the future of the eurozone.¸

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