US/World News

Austria declines ADL’s plea to free Jewish historian

(JTA) – Austria’s president denied a request by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to pardon a Jewish historian facing jail time over a Holocaust restitution issue. The denial came in a Sept. 8 letter sent by President Heinz Fischer’s office to Andrew Srulevitch, ADL’s assistant director for international affairs, in reply to the plea by Srulevitch to nullify the  sentence of Stephan Templ before he is to report to prison later this month. Noting that Templ had exhausted all avenues of appeal, the letter stated, “The judgment is therefore final.”

In May, the Austrian Supreme Court rejected Templ’s appeal over his April 2014 fraud conviction for failing in his 2006 restitution application to mention his aunt, his mother’s estranged sister. He was sentenced to three years in jail, but the sentence was reduced to one year.

Templ is the author of a 2001 book on restitution in which he criticized the Austrian state and society’s theft of Jewish property and failures to offer restitution. Many Austrian Jews, including the anti-fascist campaigner and journalist Karl Pfeifer, said they considered the conviction to be a result of a vendetta against Templ. Austrian officials have denied the claim, saying the conviction is consistent with the law and penal code.

But critics of the original ruling noted that Austria never legally owned the property and therefore cannot be regarded as a victim of Templ’s actions. Others have pointed out that Austria’s laws do not require restitution claimants to list other heirs.

“The extraordinary use of criminal law by the state in the case of Stephan Templ raises some uncomfortable questions,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s national director, wrote to Fischer in July.

Earlier this month, Templ obtained proof that an Austrian official who was tasked, in his capacity as a public notary, with finding all the heirs to the property relevant to Templ’s claim also omitted Templ’s aunt and another heir from his list.

“The latest twist in this absurd story of injustice is that the Austrian state committed the same act for which its justice system convicted me,” Templ told JTA.

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