Austria Honors Pitt’s Vivian Curran for Her Work on Holocaust Settlement Fund Committee

Issue Date: 
May 29, 2007

For her service on the Austrian Property Claims Committee—established to help compensate for property losses resulting from Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria from 1938 to 1945—Pitt Professor of Law Vivian Curran has received one of the Austrian government’s highest honors.

Curran was awarded the Grand Decoration of Merit in Gold for Services Rendered to the Republic of Austria during a state luncheon and decoration ceremony May 2 in Pitt’s William Pitt Union. Eva Nowotny, Austrian ambassador to the United States, presented Curran with the decoration.

From 2004 to 2006, Curran served as the U.S. representative on the three-member claims committee, which received 20,000 claims filed by people who lost property—including both real and personal property as well as loss of education and professional earning capacity—resulting from the Nazi annexation. Austria earmarked $200 million to compensate victims for lost household property, homes, and land. Under a 2001 U.S.-Austria treaty called the Washington Agreement, Austria created the compensation fund and the committee and passed a law easing the burden of proof for victims. The U.S. State Department appointed Curran to the committee.

During the May 2 ceremony here, Curran said that “while no one can change what happened in the past, what Austria is doing today [to compensate survivors of the Nazi era] also is a part of history.” Nowotny noted regretfully that “history cannot be tied with a neat bow” but emphasized the Austrian government’s acceptance of responsibility and its efforts to make amends to victims of the Nazi era.

Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, in his opening remarks during the ceremony, pointed out that Nowotny “is no stranger to Pitt,” having lectured here 20 years ago and returned in 2004 as part of the Distinguished Visitors and Scholars program sponsored by the University’s European Union Center of Excellence and European Studies Center. Nordenberg also recalled meeting with Curran 18 years ago, when he was dean of Pitt’s School of Law, to discuss her hiring as an instructor of legal writing and analysis here. “Today, Professor Curran is widely regarded to be one of this country’s leading comparative law and Holocaust scholars and an expert in property and inheritance law,” the chancellor said.

Curran’s current scholarly work deals with the effects of globalization on law. In the past, her research has dealt with the role of law, especially of courts, in situations of constitutional crisis, such as existed in Germany after Hitler came to power and in Vichy, France. Curran’s knowledge of U.S. estate law was essential to her role on the Austrian Property Claims Committee because many claimants were heirs and legatees of victims who had died in the United States.

Curran’s fluency in German also was an asset to her committee work because the meetings were conducted in German. A native speaker of English and French, Curran created the Pitt law school’s Languages for Lawyers program, in which students study foreign languages in a legal context, and of English for Lawyers, in which foreign lawyers study English in a legal context.

Curran has published nearly 50 articles and book reviews in legal journals. Her books include Core Questions of Comparative Law, an English translation of Bernhard Grossfeld’s, Kernfragen Der Rechtsvergleichung (Carolina Academic Press, 2005); Comparative Law: An Introduction (edited book, Carolina Academic Press, 2002); and Learning French Through the Law: A French/English Comparative Treatment of Terms in a Legal Context (Columbia University’s Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law and Juris Publishing Inc., 1996).