I.2. The Commission's mandate
Generally it has to be understood that, in the light of the mission entrusted to the Commission, its remit is historical research rather than the evaluation of legal claims or of the question whether lump-sum compensation may have been reasonable. Nor can the Commission take any decisions on such issues in general, let alone in the case of individuals or specific groups. This is true notwithstanding the fact that some of the Commission's member are lawyers and that lawyers may be asked to do some work for the Commission.
In order to delimit its mandate, the Commission considers it essential to distinguish between two groups:
1. persons who sustained losses as a result of specific Nazi policies, i.e. people who suffered outright persecution or other types of coercion on racial and/or political grounds for typical Nazi motives; and
2. those individuals and categories of people who indirectly lost property because the Nazi regime existed (e.g. through forced saving) or who sustained other kinds of losses (war damage through bombing, military operations etc.).
The current state of research in the Commission's various fields of investigation, as reflected in the literature and the availability of sources, varies enormously. In some areas, extensive research will be necessary to see whether property was in fact looted, and if so, how much and whether this happened in the territory of the Republic of Austria. In other areas, we shall have to use the results of other Commissions. This refers to work done in the private sector (e.g. the VOEST steel company or the PSK Postal Savings Bank) as well as the activities of other public bodies (such as the Commission for research into the provenience of works of art set up by the Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs). Nevertheless, the Commission reserves the right in each of these cases to make up its own mind on whether these researches answer its questions fully and finally. If so, the Commission will formally endorse these researches and make appropriate reference to them.
This point of view is also essential to the question of how best to delimit the research projects: the Commission will primarily embark on those researches which other groups are unlikely or unable to undertake. This means that we expect an already observable trend to continue, viz that several organisations have already started research in this field, hence a number of independent projects is in progress. In view of some unconfirmed press reports, the Commission would like to emphasise that contractual agreements between such organisations and third parties, such as the CA banking concern, must not result in any obstruction of access to sources for the Commission. But as we have noted, the Commission reserves the right to decide which projects can be treated as a reference and where additional research is required. It follows that the Commission will need a measure of flexibility as its work proceeds.
In some areas, the state of research is already so clear and unambiguous that the Commission's activities will merely have to aim to dig somewhat deeper. Hence the Commission proposes a research strategy which, in a mutually complementary and controlled procedure, should enable it to cover as comprehensively as possible all questions implied in its mandate. Paying due regard to the state of research, we shall proceed step by step in covering each of the questions which arise in our research. But given the limited resources available and the need to finish the project in good time, the Commission does not consider it as its task to completely cover all problems posed. In principle it should be noted that the work of the Commission, in its own perception, should serve the purpose of making some difficult and sensitive problems of recent Austrian history comprehensible to as many people as possible. Of course, in addition to providing such information to nonspecialists, the Commission's work may also help to prepare the ground for legal measures and can support their acceptance. But it would be a misunderstanding to make political decisions entirely dependent on the Commission's findings. In some important fields, political decisionmakers are in a position here and now to open political discussions with certain groups of victims, thereby maintaining a momentum which has been reflected lately in the establishment of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism (Federal Law Gazette 1995/432).