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Actio in rem verso regarding restituted property of Holocaust Victims

In a recent decision, the Austrian Supreme Court has now confirmed that Holocaust victims, respectively their heirs, whose property has been seized or looted by the Nazis and then returned on the basis of Holocaust restitution laws may file legal claims on the basis of the so-called “enrichment without cause”.

In the case at hand, heirs of the original owners of real estate, which had been “aryanized” by the Nazis, have been granted a resolution in 2009 on the basis of Austrian Holocaust restitution regulations, whereby the Republic of Austria as the current proprietor had to return the real estate to the claimant heirs. The heirs have now sued the Republic if Austria demanding that profits generated from the real estate prior to its restitution shall be forwarded to the claimants, on the basis that they have been unjustly paid to the unlawful proprietor (the Republic of Austria). In its response the Republic of Austria had argued that such claim was unlawful, since any form of restitution claims are not to be decided by the courts, but fall under the decision-making authority of specialised agencies appointed with the task of deciding Holocaust restitution matters. The Austrian Supreme Court has now rejected the Republic of Austria’s legal opinion, thus stating that Holocaust victims and their heirs shall be entitled to make claims of this kind in Austrian courts on the basis of general civil law, regardless of any regulations – including the statues of limitations – under Holocaust restitution laws.