Austrian Jew Takes Restitution Case to European Human Rights Court

Stephan Templ Served Three Years in Prison After Claim Went Wrong


Published April 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A Jewish critic of Austria’s post-war record in returning property plundered by the Nazis plans to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights after receiving a jail sentence last year when his own restitution claim went sour.

Stephan Templ, 53, an architectural historian living in Prague, was sentenced to three years in jail for defrauding the Alpine republic after failing to name his aunt in a restitution claim for a hospital building near Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse.

The state argued that the aunt, Elisabeth Kretschmer, could have relinquished her stake in the building, which was seized from its Jewish owner after Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, and that this share would have reverted to the state.

Kretschmer learned in 2011, two years after a state panel returned the building to dozens of relatives including Tempel’s mother, that she had missed a deadline to claim a stake in the property, and she then went to Vienna prosecutors.

The Vienna court ruled that Templ illegally omitted the 84-year-old Kretschmer to boost his mother’s share of the property.

Templ, who had been estranged from his aunt for 30 years, argued that not mentioning her was a mere oversight. No other claimants mentioned other potential heirs in the paperwork, according to Templ, but he was the only one charged with fraud.

Austria, which came to terms with its Nazi past much later than Germany, has had a complicated history in returning looted property to original Jewish owners and their heirs.


After years of wrangling that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, an arbitration board in 2006 forced Austria’s National Gallery to return five paintings by Gustav Klimt to Maria Altmann, the heiress of a Jewish family that had its art stolen.

The more recent discovery in Munich and Salzburg of a billion-dollar art hoard, much of it believed to have been looted or extorted by the Nazis, has reignited a debate over how Austria and Germany have dealt with restitution claims.

Templ, who co-wrote a book in 2001 listing Jewish properties looted by Austrian Nazis and never returned, alleged Austria singled him out for punishment due to his outspoken criticism.

“The whole court ruling is absurd. But even more absurd is the punishment for the whole thing,” Templ said by telephone.

“What I am appealing now is just the length and the conditions of the punishment. I can’t appeal any more against this stupid or un-understandable court ruling….I can just appeal again in the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.

Templ, due to appear in court next week to challenge his sentence, learned in 2005 that the clinic confiscated by Nazi rulers from distant relative Lothar Fuerth would be returned to nine of his heirs.

He travelled to Vienna and - discovering that his mother, 80-year-old Holocaust survivor Helene Templ, was also an heir - filed a claim on her behalf. In 2009, a state panel returned the building to 39 relatives of Fuerth, including Templ’s mother, and they later sold it, sharing the proceeds.

Templ was found guilty of defrauding Austria of the stake which the state could have acquired had the aunt given up her portion. Austria’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal this year.

He said it was not his responsibility to name all other heirs to the building, and that Austria was aware of his aunt and other potential claimants before the property was returned.

Vienna prosecutors declined to comment on the case.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.