Restoring Nazi stolen art to the rightful owners might be more successful thanks to a new law. The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 will allow one standard to be applied to the statutes of limitations used in recovery. Recovering the stolen art was more strenuous because of the myriad laws and limitations imposed upon claims.
The laws favored the defendants in lawsuits, allowing them to keep artwork that had been stolen in World War II. The rightful owners were forbidden from making a claim, even though they had the provenance to prove the art belonged to them. Families who were victimized by the Nazis had little or no recourse to possess what was once a family treasure.
Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimpt
Part of the difficulty arose from the claims of the survivors of the Holocaust who were stripped of their documentation, or the family members of those who had died in the Holocaust. Without the correct paperwork, countries were loath to begin the arduous process of legal battles that often reverted to he said, she said style arguments. How does a child describe the now dead Nazi officer who stole the artwork from his parents? You can see the difficulty in positively identifying the stolen treasures. This argument ensued even when there was clear documentation to buttress the claim. Many Europeans, in particular, appeared to want the past to stay dead and buried rather than admit culpability in the wholesale looting of billions of dollars in art theft.
Recent estimates claim that upwards of 20 percent of European art was whisked away by the greed of the Nazis. The new law will allow people more time in which to file a claim for ownership after they have located their stolen art. This law under-girds a formerly weak agreement, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art, that is a treaty signed in 1998 by 44 countries. The reality is that most governments did little or nothing to ensure the art would really be restored to its rightful owners.
The new law gives teeth to the treaty and pushes reluctant countries in the right direction of restitution. There is some irony in the fact that the Europeans are being forced to recognize the claims to stolen artwork from Jewish people while they simultaneously refuse to help Israel exist as a nation.
It seems that some things never change. Antisemitism has raged across Europe for hundreds of years. And on the foundations of the old death camps the old hatred arises.