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Jewish author may 'soon be released' from Austrian jail

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Templ outside Simmering prison. Photo: stephantempl.com
10:32 CET+01:00
A Jewish historian and critic of Austria's approach to returning property looted by the Nazis could soon be freed from an Austrian jail after the discovery of new evidence relating to his case.

Stephan Templ, 55, was convicted of serious fraud after he applied on behalf of his mother for the return of a former palace in Vienna which was seized from his family in 1938.

He was accused of deliberately hiding the existence of an estranged aunt in his claim - although papers have recently been found that show that the authorities were aware of the existence of the aunt in 2002.

However, representatives of the state-run Compensation Fund for Victims of National Socialism testified during his trial last year that they had no knowledge of his aunt.

Templ was sentenced to three years in prison, which was reduced on appeal to one year. He has been in Vienna's Simmering jail since October 15th.

The judge ruled that he had “damaged the Republic of Austria” because the aunt's potential share of the building had gone to Templ's mother, and not to the state. She was awarded compensation of €1.1 million.

Vienna's chief prosecutor has now requested a witness testimony from an employee of the Compensation Fund - which could see Templ's conviction overturned. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry told the Kurier newspaper that the justice minister may propose that Austria's president grant Templ an official pardon.

Prominent Holocaust historians condemned Templ's conviction in a strongly worded letter to the Austrian government.

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Templ's lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, has filed a petition against Austria with the United Nations human rights council. He believes Templ's treatment is politically motivated and a result of his efforts to expose what he describes as Austria's inadequate attempts to compensate Jewish owners for property stolen by the Nazis.  

Templ's 2001 book Unser Wien contained details of hundreds of prominent properties seized by the Nazis that were never returned - including famous Vienna landmarks such as the Riesenrad ferris wheel and luxury hotels.

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