World Report

NEW YORK (JTA) — Austria passed a law to create a $50 million fund for Nazi victims.

The fund, known as the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for the Victims of National Socialism, will provide an undislosed amount of money to people who were "persecuted by the Nazi regime out of political, racial, religious or ethnic reasons; because of their sexual orientation; or [because of] their disabilities."

The law, adopted June 1, was introduced by Austria's governing coalition parties.

World Jewish Congres executive director Elan Steinberg said the fund is "Austria's way of paying reparations without calling it reparations."

The term "reparations" implies taking responsibility for the persecutions of World War II, he said. But "Austria for nearly half a century has presented itself as the first victim of Hitler," Steinberg said.

Other fund beneficiaries will include those "who received no or insufficient payments, who are particularly needy or whose support seems otherwise justified," the law says.

About 25,000 to 30,000 former Austrian Jews are alive from the World War II period, Steinberg said.

Austria said it has names and addresses of 12,000 people eligible for compensation. More are expected to make claims.

Swastikas removed from German graves

BONN (JTA) — Fifty-year-old swastikas on headstones of German soldiers were removed in a northern German town, despite a church effort to keep them.

And the German church that oversees the cemetery in Osternburg now has to decide whether to replace the Nazi symbols.

When Osternburg resident Wolf Hertlein spotted the swastikas on a visit to the cemetery, he told the Evangelical Lutheran Church that he wanted them removed from the gravestones.

Hertlein persisted after the church denied his request. He went to the media, which played up the story.

The issue sparked a major row in the town. The church received some 1,000 appeals urging that the graves remain intact.

At an emergency meeting the church convened, leaders said the swastikas should remain because they are a memorial to the "wicked regime for which those soldiers had given their lives."

Others disagreed. They went to the cemetery one morning last week and removed swastikas from 13 of the 14 graves with them.

The church will now have to decide whether to order the swastikas put back on the graves, 50 years after the war.

The community's rabbi, Henry Brandt, distanced himself from the debate. "This is entirely a matter for the non-Jews to decide," he said.

Touvier loses appeal against life sentence

PARIS (JTA) — Paul Touvier, the first and only Frenchman convicted of crimes against humanity, has lost his last appeal against the life sentence imposed on him April 20, 1994.

The Cour de Cassation, France's supreme court, rejected the appeal June 1.

He could now can ask for the pardon of French President Jacques Chirac, but the chances of success are not good.

Touvier, who led the collaborationist militia of Lyon during World War II, was involved in the execution of seven Jewish hostages in Rillieux-la-Pape on June 29, 1944.

Three other Frenchmen — Reni Bousquet, Jean Leguay and Maurice Papon — have been charged with crimes against humanity, but their cases never went to trial.

Germany may create memorial for victims

BONN (JTA) — Germany is considering holding an annual national memorial day for victims of Nazism and genocide.

The German presidium of the Bundestag decided last week in principle to establish the day. Germany's president and state premier must approve the plan too.

The proposed memorial day is Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

German Jewish leader Ignatz Bubis urged Jan. 27 as a remembrance day. Jan. 20, the day in 1941 when Nazi leaders at the Wannsee Conference drafted the Final Solution, may also be suitable, he said.