Rothschild heir sues Vienna for ‘perpetuating Nazi decrees’

A member of the Rothschild family is suing the city of Vienna, accusing it of "perpetuating" Nazi laws by plundering the Jewish banking family's foundation, media reports said on Saturday.

Rothschild heir sues Vienna for 'perpetuating Nazi decrees'
Palais Albert Rothschild, one of five Rothschild Palaces in Vienna built at the end of the 19th century. Photo: Hippolyte Destailleur/Wikimedia Commons
The Financial Times reported that the dispute — over the long-forgotten charitable trust set up to provide psychiatric help — is one of the largest-ever restitution claims by Nazi regime victims' descendants.
Austria's Kurier daily and Profil magazine carried similar reports on the case, for which a Vienna district court hearing has been set on February 20.
Vienna “has acted as if the Nazi confiscation decrees were still in place”, according to the reported court filings by the lawyer of Geoffrey Hoguet, a descendant of the younger brother of Nathaniel Freiherr von Rothschild.
Rothschild — a member of the Austria branch of the wealthy family originally from Frankfurt — left the equivalent of about 100 million euros ($110 million) when he died in 1905 to provide psychiatric help for the needy.
The foundation set up in his name and initially managed by a 12-member committee led by the Rothschild family ended up running two sanatoriums — the first, opened in 1912, still operating today as a neurological centre.
The Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, expelled the Rothschilds in that year and disbanded the foundation in 1939.
After World War II, in 1956, it was re-established and managed by the city of Vienna, no longer under a 12-member committee.
Sale 'grossly undervalued'
Hoguet — a prominent investor from New York and financial supporter of Democratic Party presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg — now says an independent management committee should be put in place again.
He has accused the city of appropriating the foundation in breach of its founder's will, according to the reports.
The 69-year-old also wants to nullify the sale of one of the sanatoriums in the early 2000s — a late-baroque palace that was reportedly one of the world's earliest centres of mental health treatment.
He alleges it was sold at a “grossly undervalued” price to the city, according to the Financial Times.
Hoguet's court case also aims to nullify a 2017 clause that determines that if the foundation were dissolved its wealth would go to the city of Vienna. A lawyer for the city of Vienna said in a statement that agreements
regarding the foundation were made decades ago with “the greatest respect and absolutely in line with the foundation's purpose”.
It is not the first case highlighting Austria's dealing with its past.
In 2016, Vienna's famous Leopold Museum settled a long-running dispute over five Nazi-plundered drawings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele with the descendants of the works' Jewish former owner.
Since Austria passed a law in 1998 covering the restitution of vast numbers of artworks stolen by the Nazis, thousands have been returned — including major works worth millions of euros.


Why does Vienna’s waste department have a helicopter and a military plane?

Not every waste management department in the world gets a helicopter or military aircraft, but Austria's MA 48 isn't every waste management department. Here's why you may have seen the familiar orange colours on helicopters and military planes.

Why does Vienna's waste department have a helicopter and a military plane?

The Viennese municipal waste department, known as MA48, is undoubtedly a big part of daily life in the Austrian capital – and not only for practical reasons.

Every Viennese will be familiar with the department’s extensive public relations campaigns, from contests for choosing funny one-liners for its trash cans to weekend-long outdoor events showing kids (and grownups) the importance of the proper waste collection and circular economy.

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But some of these public relations expenses might be harder to swipe under the carpet as the City of Vienna Court of Audit shone a light on the high costs of some of these actions, according to the daily newspaper Der Standard.

Most impressively, the audit made by request of opposition party FPÖ showed high expenses, including hiring a military aircraft and a helicopter – quite uncommon for a municipal waste department.

The MA 48 justifies the expenses by saying the aircraft served to attract apprentices and for public relations.

The SPÖ party, which governs Vienna, said that the department achieved “a maximum effect with a minimum budget with its public relations work” and “the advertising measures served to educate citizens and thus protect the environment.”, according to a press release.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

The apprentices during one of Ma 48’s events in Vienna (Copyright: Christian Houdek/PID)

Vienna’s audit court partially understands but still recommended some measures to improve transparency. The PR department of MA 48 will set up a cost centre to improve those issues, according to Der Standard.

The City Audit Office Committee will meet for its periodical review of public expenses on May 19th, when the subject should be further debated.