New Ruling Favors Jewish Families and Art Restitution

A landmark ruling on March 30, 2017 favored Jewish families against German holders of stolen art. The families claimed their artwork was stolen by the Nazis as part of the action taken against all Jewish people in Germany and other countries. As the Nazis investigated the financial and art holdings of Jewish families, they confiscated everything of value from silverware, china, artwork, priceless musical instruments, jewelry, money and furniture. Eventually the Nazis took the homes, offices and other real estate owned by Jewish families.









Above, Portrait of A Young Man, by Raphael,  is still listed as missing.

A United States District Court in Washington, DC, found for the descendants of Jewish families who were robbed of their possessions by Nazis. The Germans claim that the artworks and other items were not sold under duress by the owners; their contention is that the owners wanted to sell.

The reason the decision is so critical is that it is the first decision by a court to allow descendants to sue the Germans and others under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The collection names in the lawsuit is currently held in the Bode Museum in Berlin, Germany. Germany claims the Guelph Treasure collection, valued at about $227 million dollars, was purchased legally. The claimants dispute that, saying the portion of the collection that went to Hermann Goering was obtained illegally.

The Germans contend that the Limbach Commission decided in 2014 that no lawsuits could be litigated later. They contended that the sale was proper. The US court disagreed, agreeing with the claimants that the Nazi actions of taking property without compensation is in violation of international law. Since the end of World War II, German officials have insisted that the owners of the artwork and other items willing sold their treasures to individuals. Historic documents, survivors and their descendants dispute this claim, resulting in descendants filing lawsuits in Europe and the United States to return the items stolen by the Nazis to their families.

Jeweled Crucifix from the

Guelph Treasure Collection.

The collection is currently housed in the Bode Museum in Berlin.


Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimpt, a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

The film Woman in Gold told the story of Maria Altmann’s lawsuit to have her aunt’s portrait, painted by Gustav Klimpt, returned to her family. The Altmann family, who lived in Vienna, had all of their property stolen by Nazis prior to Maria’s parents being shipped to a concentration camp and killed. Klimpt painted several portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria’s aunt. The portrait in Austria that was the center of Maria’s lawsuit hung in the family’s living room. After winning her suit, the painting was eventually returned to her. She in turn sold it to Ronald S. Lauder, son of Estee Lauder the founder of the cosmetics company. Ronald Lauder opened the Neue Galerie, a nonprofit art gallery in New York city, and hung the painting in his gallery.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys in February, 2015, against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage, stated that international law was broken and the Europeans had no claim to stolen property. The court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs will no doubt bring more publicity to the question of stolen artwork. Millions of dollars in artwork, stolen from Jewish families and others, remains in hiding or is being sold on the black market today. As more judgments are called in favor of plaintiffs it will be interesting to see if the art really is restored to its rightful owners or if it will disappear into the great maw of underworld criminal syndicates.

The problem of stolen artwork continues every day. In this blog I will share new information as it becomes available. The blogs will cover different aspects of the loot stolen by Nazis and still circulating the globe illegally and under the radar. All the artwork stolen by Nazis is still capturing the imaginations of people everywhere. It is a giant business that keeps law enforcement officers, gallery and museum owners, and affects art sales to both reputable buyers and scoundrels.

Art Theft Recovery Gets a Boost


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.