Israeli: Haider Estate Deal Tainted
Feb. 10, 2000
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Austria's far-right leader Joerg Haider owns a 3,700-acre estate acquired by his family from a Jewish timber merchant in a tainted deal under Nazi laws, the daughter of the one-time owners said today.
Noemi Merhav said her mother had been under pressure to sell the Baerental estate in 1941 because of Nazi property laws. She said she and her son hoped to get back the land known for its timber, sawmill and hunting.
Haider, whose Freedom Party is part of Austria's new government, has said he inherited the property legally.
The Freedom Party's inclusion in government has sparked an outcry around the world _ especially in Israel, which recalled its ambassador _ because of Haider's past praise for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's economic policies. He later apologized.
Under property laws passed by the Nazis, Jews were required to transfer property to non-Jews, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
Merhav said Haider's great-uncle, Josef Webhofer, acquired Baerental from her mother, Matilde Roifer.
Matilde Roifer had given her brother-in-law, Naftoli Emdine, power of attorney to oversee the land in the southern province of Carinthia after the Roifers moved to Italy and then Palestine, according to Alexander Rofe, Merhav's brother.
Emdine consequently sold the land to Webhofer.
Merhav said the sale was illegal because Emdine's power of attorney had expired. ``On the other side of the power of attorney papers, the authorities wrote that it had no value but they accept it because it was used in a sale to an Aryan,'' said Merhav, 71.
Referring to Nazi property laws, Merhav said her brother-in-law forced into the sale. ``He really, really didn't have any choice.''
It ``wasn't moral'' that Webhofer agreed to take the land when her family could not have kept it, she added.
Merhav said she was unsure how much the land was sold for, but that it was about 1 percent of the value at the time.
Matilde Roifer returned to Austria in 1952 to try to reclaim the land, and received $120,000 from Webhofer in an out-of-court settlement, Merhav said.
She said she believed the land is now worth about $15 million and said Haider has used the wealth from the estate in his political pursuits.
Haider was elected governor of Carinthia before he received the estate.
Merhav and her son Zvi, who both live in Israel, are considering taking legal action to win back the property.