Holocaust survivors still left to count the terrible cost of war

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It took more than half a century from the end of the Second World War before Peter Phillips, Evi Labi and the 2,000 other Britons who had family property, insurance policies and bank accounts looted by the Nazis in Austria were promised any redress.

A $210 million compensation fund, created in 2001, seemed to offer some compensation for their losses. But five years on, the money remains elusive. Holocaust survivors who should be benefiting are ageing and, increasingly, dying. So far, no claim has been paid out.

Peter Phillips talks of his 'extreme frustration' at the delays. He was aged three and then called Peter Pfeffer when his parents had to leave Vienna hurriedly in 1939 after his father, a doctor, had been tipped off by a patient that he was marked down on a list for Dachau.

Evi Labi also managed to escape with her parents - in her case within hours of the Nazi occupation of Austria in March 1938. Her father had worked for the previous Austrian government, and their apartment in Vienna was occupied and ransacked almost immediately after the Nazis arrived in the city.

'My story is one of many,' she says. Then aged 15, she recounts the terrible time when their apartment was first invaded. 'They opened the front door, and said to passersby "Come and help yourself to Persian rugs",' she recalls. Within hours, she found herself a refugee, without even the money for a toothbrush.

Mr Phillips, Evi Labi and a small number of fellow Austrian refugees have now created the Austrian Restitution Group which is pressing the Austrian government for action. Both say that it is the principle of compensation, rather than the money itself, which is important.

But for some fellow refugees, clearly the money is a real need. Mr Phillips says that between 30 and 40 people who have made claims to the compensation fund have approached the Group for help in recent months. 'Some people are really hard up,' he says. 'People ask me, "Herr Phillips, when will we get the money?" The answer is, I haven't the faintest idea.'

The Austrian compensation fund, known as the General Settlement Fund, has been controversial from the start. It was created by the Austrian government after pressure from Jewish organisations and was part of a process which saw similar compensation schemes set up by German and Swiss banks and insurers. However, the total in the General Settlement Fund, $210m, has been criticised for being unrealistically low. There is no suggestion that families will receive anything like full compensation.

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