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French Jews Use Web To Find Assets

October 13, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ Romain Kartagener has said for decades that his family’s assets were seized in Austria by the Nazis during World War II. On Tuesday, he finally found the proof he’d been seeking for so long _ courtesy of a new Internet site created for just that purpose.

Kartagener, 79, became one of a handful of French Jews who have used the new Web site to track down their confiscated belongings. In his case, he found the asset list his father was forced to fill out after the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938.

The site, www.LivingHeirs.com, was unveiled by the Simon Wiesenthal Center last month in Los Angeles. It lists the names of some 50,000 Jews living in Austria, most of whom perished in the Holocaust.

It is designed to help Holocaust survivors and relatives of Holocaust victims recoup their property and assets seized during World War II.

Working with Risk International, an independent company of insurance experts, the center helped Kartagener and others contact the Austrian national archives for a copy of the asset list.

During the war, many European governments, including the Nazi-collaborationist Vichy regime in France, required Jews to declare all their assets, from bicycles to gold, stocks and bonds. The asset lists are particularly valuable in verifying bank assets and insurance claims of Holocaust victims.

Many relatives of Holocaust victims and Holocaust survivors have been attempting to get European insurance companies to pay on World War II-era policies.

``It is time that the banks and the insurance companies come clean,″ said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center. ``The families must get their assets back. This is not charity. It’s basic justice.″

Under a pending deal, European insurance companies would pay about 10 times the face value of the policies under a formula devised by Lawrence Eagleburger, chairman of a claims commission.

Cooper urged the companies to open up their archives to provide details on individuals and their claims. Cooper said German insurance companies devised strategies even before the war broke out to deny payment to Jews.

Terrell Hunt, president of Risk International, showed documents describing a scheme devised by Heinrich Heidrich, Hitler’s top lieutenant. Under the scheme, compensation allegedly paid out to Jews who lost property during the Kristallnacht crackdown in November 1938 was, in fact, paid directly into the coffers of the Third Reich.

Hunt said German insurance companies also bought up many small companies in France and elsewhere.

``This means people who held Holocaust-era policies should be contacting German companies for documentation, and ultimately, compensation,″ he said.

Karteneger said he fled Austria for France in 1938 after being kicked out of high school three months before graduation. His father, a doctor, left behind an office and home filled with medical equipment and other valuables.

``We were luckier than most,″ he told reporters. ``An SS doctor moved in and not a pin was missing when we returned to Vienna after the war.″

But the family’s other assets, mainly financial, were confiscated.

The official documents were retrieved from Nazi archives _ some in Vienna and others in boxes in Moscow _ seized by the Russians at the end of the war.

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