Rothschild heir makes early win in legal battle with Vienna

A descendent of the Austrian branch of the prominent Rothschild family has claimed an early victory in his court battle over a medical trust set up by his ancestors, seized by the Nazis, and now run by the City of Vienna.

Rothschild heir makes early win in legal battle with Vienna
Geoffrey Hoguet, an American, is suing the Austrian authorities for control of the trust, which he claims is worth up to €110m (£98m).
Now a court has backed a claim of Hoguet's legal team that the city of Vienna's management of the trust represents a conflict of interest, ruling  that an independent “collision curator” be appointed to represent the charity in legal proceedings. 
“The decision is an important first stage win in our legal battle with the city of Vienna to correct the course of Nazi-era injustices endured until today,” Hoguet said. 
“In doing so the court recognises the improprieties conducted by the city of Vienna since the Nazi usurpation of that foundation in 1938.”
The Nathaniel Freiherr von Rothschild foundation was established  in Vienna in 1907 by Albert Freiherr von Rothschild, fulfilling the wish of his brother Nathaniel that a trust be set up in his name to treat patients with mental illness. 
By the time it was seized by the Nazis in 1938 it had a large endowment and two clinics, the Maria-Theresien-Schlössel, which was houses in an 18th century palace, and the then newly built Nervenheilanstalt Rosenhüge. 
The clinics were seized under the “aryanisation” process when the Rothschild family, one of Europe's most prominent Jewish families, fled the country. 
In 1956, the Endowment was re-established in accordance with its old charter but with the City of Vienna entrusted itself to administer the endowment´s assets.
In 2002, the city sold the palace housing the Maria-Theresien-Schlössel for a price Hoguet argues was beneath its market value. 
The foundation now leases its one remaining clinic to a public hospital for a nominal sum, with all references to the founding family stripped from the building. 
“I went back in February and walked around the campus [of the hospital], and there wasn’t one reference to the family’s name,” Hoguet told The Guardian newspaper. 
On the website set up by Hoguet's campaign, he claims he is not interested in making gains for himself personally.  
“In challenging the City of Vienna to address this grevious wrong, we seek no personal profit,” he said. 
“This is not about taking back personally what was stolen; this is about having the Endowment serve its original purpose: to support those Austrians with psychological challenges with the professional attention they need.” 

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‘Missing image’ added to WWII memorial

Alfred Hrdlicka's controversial Monument Against War and Fascism, located on Vienna's Albertinaplatz, is a reminder of a dark period in Austria's history - although critics feel it fails to present a complete picture of how the Jews were treated. Now an installation by a Jewish filmmaker takes a new perspective.

'Missing image' added to WWII memorial
A still from the film. Image: Österreichischen Filmmuseum

When Hrdlicka’s sculpture was erected in 1988, many people took offence to the bronze figure of a bearded man lying down, washing the streets, because they felt it portrayed Jewish victims in a humiliating and undignified way.

Tourists even used to sit on it, until a barbed wire element was added to the sculpture, to make it less comfortable.

Viennese filmmaker Ruth Beckermann felt that historical context was missing from the monument – but when she recently saw a rare film clip from 1938 in Austria’s Film Museum, which shows bystanders laughing at the Jews who were made to clean anti-Nazi slogans from the city’s streets and buildings, she felt she had found “the missing image”.

“These laughing faces are the people who made the Jews clean the pavements, this was the brainchild of Viennese anti-Semites, it didn’t happen anywhere else,” Beckermann told The Local.

“Seeing the film clip reminds you of how recently this happened – it’s as if you are suddenly taken back to that moment in time, and is much more powerful than a photograph,” she added.

She has looped the film clip and projected it onto two LED-screens, which will be displayed alongside the monument for the next nine months.

For years Austria painted itself as a victim of Hitler, rather than a perpetrator of Nazi crimes.

Beckermann hopes that her installation will provoke a discussion about the monument. “It’s important to talk about these so-called ‘minor incidents’, as well as the atrocities that followed.

It’s easier to relate to the ‘minor’ things – because we all know what it means to be humiliated, at school or at work – or to bully others. At what point do we start to exclude other people, and treat them as the outsiders?”

The Monument Against War and Fascism. Photo: Priwo/Wikipedia