Austria improves nationality law for descendants of Nazi victims

An amendment had to be passed to remedy "unacceptable differences in treatment" of the descendants of Holocaust victims.

austria parliament house flag

The Austrian parliament has amended the 2019 Citizenship Act to correct “inequalities” faced by descendants of Nazi victims who fled the country under Hitler’s Third Reich.

The legislation came into effect last September allowing descendants of up to three generations of victims of Nazi persecution to reclaim an Austrian passport in a simplified process.

However, the amendment passed unanimously Thursday night had to be brought in to remedy “unacceptable differences in the treatment” of the descendants under the 2019 act, member of parliament Sabine Schatz said in a statement.

“When the act came into force, inequalities were noted that have been corrected,” she added.

Political expert Barbara Serloth, who was involved in the amendment project, told AFP that descendants of people “killed by the Nazis”, for example in Mauthausen concentration camp, were not eligible.

Nor were descendants of those who committed suicide or had citizenship of a country other than the nations of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.

MP Martin Engelberg cited cases of people who could not meet the requirements because their grandmothers had lost their Austrian nationality when they married and moved to a different country.

READ ALSO: How descendants of victims of Nazism can apply for Austrian citizenship

The women may have lost their nationality “deliberately”, he said, but that was “to escape persecution”.

The amendment also takes into account descendants of survivors who decided not to return to Austria after Hitler took power in 1933, for fear of persecution.

The 2019 act saw 16,200 people take Austrian nationality in 2021, an 80 percent increase in the numbers compared to the previous year — and half of them were descendants of victims of the Nazis.

Some 16 percent of the naturalisations were Israelis, 10 percent Americans, and seven percent British.

Until 2019, only Holocaust survivors themselves could obtain Austrian nationality.

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Artwork stolen by Nazis to be returned to heirs of Austrian Jewish cabaret star

New York authorities have announced the return of $9 million worth of art by Austrian artist Egon Schiele stolen by the Nazi regime to the family of Fritz Grunbaum, an Austrian Jewish cabaret performer killed in the Holocaust.

Artwork stolen by Nazis to be returned to heirs of Austrian Jewish cabaret star

The seven drawings, all by Schiele, were “voluntarily surrendered by the holding institutions and estates,” including New York’s famous Museum of Modern Art, “after they were presented with evidence that they were stolen by the Nazis,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The move comes as a victory for Grunbaum’s heirs, who have been fighting for the art’s return for years.

Grunbaum died at the Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

“I hope this moment can serve as a reminder that despite the horrific death and destruction caused by the Nazis, it is never too late to recover some of what we lost (and) honor the victims,” District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

Timothy Reif, a judge and one of Grunbaum’s relatives, thanked authorities for having “succeeded in solving crimes perpetrated over 80 years ago.”

“Their righteous and courageous collaboration in the pursuit of justice – unique among prosecutors and law enforcement in this entire nation, if not the world – shine a bright light for all to follow.”

As of June, Bragg’s office had returned more than 950 looted or improperly acquired pieces of art worth $165 million, to countries including Cambodia, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Italy.


The seven Schiele drawings were seized by the office’s Antiquities Tracking Unit earlier this year, from the Museum of Modern Art, the Ronald Lauder Collection, the Morgan Library, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the Vally Sabarsky Trust in Manhattan.

The works by Schiele, an Austrian expressionist artist, are valued between $780,000 and $2.75 million each, with the district attorney’s office estimating their total value at more than $9 million.

Grunbaum, who was also an art collector and critic of the Nazi regime, possessed hundreds of works of art, including more than 80 by Schiele.

Schiele’s works, considered “degenerate” by the Nazis, were largely auctioned or sold abroad to finance the Nazi Party, according to the district attorney’s office.

This handout image provided by the New York District Attorney's Office on September 20th, 2023, shows the painting "A Portrait of a Boy" by Austrian artist Egon Schiele.

This handout image provided by the New York District Attorney’s Office on September 20th, 2023, shows the painting “A Portrait of a Boy” by Austrian artist Egon Schiele. (Photo by New York US Attorneys office / AFP)

Arrested by the Nazis in 1938, Grunbaum was forced while at Dachau to sign over his power of attorney to his spouse, who was then made to hand over the family’s entire collection before herself being deported to a different concentration camp, in current-day Belarus.

The seven works whose restitution was announced Wednesday had reappeared on the art market after World War II in the 1950s, first in Switzerland and then making their way to New York.

A judge in 2018 had ruled in favor of the Grunbaum heirs concerning two different Schiele pieces, after a London art dealer argued that a sale of 54 Schiele drawings by Grunbaum’s sister-in-law after his death was a valid transfer of the work.

But the judge rejected the idea that Grunbaum would have ever given her possession of the works voluntarily, writing that “a signature at gunpoint cannot lead to a valid conveyance.”

That ruling was one of the first to come after the US Congress passed the Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act in 2016, designed to relax the statute of limitations regarding recovering art stolen during World War II.

France passed its own law in July to make it easier for works of art seized by Nazi Germany that ended up in French museums to be returned to their Jewish owners.

The Grunbaum heirs are pursuing other works as well.

Last week, three different Schiele drawings were seized by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio.