World Report

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ROME (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League has opened an office in Vienna, its first in Europe, to serve as a base for fighting anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in Central and Eastern Europe.

"We put up the mezuzah," said Abraham Foxman, the ADL national director.

Foxman said the two-person staff will carry out traditional ADL operations including media monitoring, security training for Jewish organizations and victim advocacy.

"Vienna traditionally has been a window on the region," he said. "From here, we can reach out."

He said the office will be underwritten by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation for the first three years of its operation.

He added that the Austrian government was eager to have the office as part of its efforts to fight anti-Semitism and racism.

The government's support for the ADL reflects its concern over the rise in Austria of the anti-immigrant Freedom Party, which is one of the strongest far-right parties in Europe.

Through the foundation that bears his name, Ronald Lauder has sought to help revitalize Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe through the establishment of schools and a broad range of communal programs.

German chemical firm to assess WWII role

FRANKFURT (JTA) — A German chemical firm has commissioned two independent investigations of its role in the Nazi looting of Jewish gold and silver during World War II.

The announcement by Degussa signals a trend among German companies to respond more openly to growing public interest in the role of big business during the Holocaust.

German companies such as Degussa and the Allianz insurance firm have recently stepped up their efforts to investigate their own roles in aiding the Nazi regime, presumably to avoid the negative publicity Swiss banks encountered for their reluctance in dealing with the issue.

In an agreement with the World Jewish Congress, Degussa will examine its involvement in smelting precious metals stolen from Jews.

The WJC will nominate historians for the project who worked on the recent U.S. government report on Nazi gold, said Michael Jansen, Degussa's executive vice president.

For the second probe, Degussa has asked a team of economic historians at the University of Cologne to investigate the company's wartime activities.

The announcement by Degussa came during a conference in Frankfurt this summer on the behavior of corporations and business leaders during the Nazi era.

Jansen said Degussa only recently learned that some of the gold the SS gave the company during World War II came from Jews living in Eastern European ghettos.

He acknowledged that some of the metal smelted at Degussa refineries might have come from gold fillings and jewelry taken from victims at concentration camps.

Agreement reached on Polish restitution

(JTA) — The Polish government and Jewish groups have reached an agreement that will expand the restitution of communal property in Poland.

Under the agreement, a foundation comprising the World Jewish Restitution Organization and Jewish communities in Poland will be established to deal with the government on property restitution.

Last November, Polish leaders expressed opposition to such a foundation, saying that only the nine existing Jewish communities can make claims on communal property.

But the agreement allows the foundation to make claims on property that was held by all 1,500 Jewish communities that existed in Poland in 1939.

Some 3.5 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust, and an estimated 8,000 Jews live in Poland today.

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, called the agreement a "fundamental breakthrough."

The foundation is expected over the next five years to submit claims for the return of at least 6,000 pieces of Jewish communal property now in the possession of the Polish government.

These properties include old synagogues, cemeteries, schools and mikvehs.