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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Habsburgs Ask Austria for Property

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- The heirs to the Habsburg dynasty, whose forebears ruled central Europe for more than 600 years in an empire that once stretched from Russia to Spain, have asked the Austrian government to return forests, homes and a palace seized by the Nazis on the eve of World War II.

But their use of a law intended primarily to aid Jewish victims of the Holocaust has angered some representatives of Vienna's Jewish community.

Christian von Habsburg-Lothringen, a nephew of Otto von Habsburg, the former pretender to the defunct Habsburg throne, says the family wants back the more than $200 million worth of forests as well as four apartment buildings and the Laxenburg Palace near Vienna.

The Habsburgs have enlisted the aid of a former U.S. diplomat, Stuart Eizenstat, who negotiated the 1999 accords that won Austria's Jews and others compensation for their suffering during the Holocaust.

Eizenstat, now a lawyer in Washington, said the Habsburg family was seeking the return of about 24,000 hectares of forest and, if it did not get back the buildings, either similar buildings in state hands or a total of $2 million from a special fund set up to compensate victims of the Nazis, including Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and Hitler's political opponents.

The Habsburgs' rule ended in 1918 when the family was forced to abdicate at the end of World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, over which the Habsburgs presided, was broken up and the family was awarded the land as a form of state pension. But when the Nazis occupied Austria in March 1938, the property was confiscated.

There is little doubt that the Habsburgs lost their property because they opposed the Nazis. Otto von Habsburg spoke out in Austria against Hitler and warned of dire consequences for Austria in the event of Anschluss, the incorporation of Austria into Germany.

"I was absolutely astounded by their story," said Eizenstat, speaking by telephone from Vienna. Eizenstat said that in 1999, Carl-Ludwig and Felix von Habsburg were recognized by an Austrian court as victims of the Nazis, and were paid a symbolic sum of $5,000 each, which they donated to Jewish charity.