The decision on Friday to allow our clients’ claims to proceed against German and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz for the restitution of the Guelph Treasure (or Welfenschatz) is ground-breaking in important respects, and a welcome part of a consistent progression in the law of sovereign immunity over claims for Nazi-looted art. As we noted in our initial reaction, it is the first decision in which a U.S. court has held that it has jurisdiction over Germany or an agency or instrumentality of it under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) for a claim to Nazi-looted or purchased art—though others have certainly tried—in this case finding the so-called expropriation exception applies. Critically, it recognizes that claims about forced sales in the early days of Nazi persecution indeed create jurisdiction. Moreover, the court agreed with our clients that Germany’s various excuses to avoid litigating the substance of a forced sale involving Hermann Goering based on pleas for deference or respect to the flawed Advisory Commission are no reason to dismiss the case.
Topics: Guelph Treasure, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, SPK, Advisory Commission, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, Preemption, expropriation exception”, NS Raubkunst, sovereign immunity, Welfenschatz, HEAR Act
Supposed Changes to German Advisory Commission on Nazi Looted Art Short on Specifics
There have been a number of articles this week indicating that Germany intends to reform the “Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property” (Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogener Kulturgüter, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz) that is charged with making recommendations to German museums on claims for art allegedly looted or bought under duress during the Nazi era. Yet the most astonishing part of the news is that it is no news at all. It is merely a repetition—if that—of what was promised in March. Only now it is not even a promise, it is an indication that proposals may be forthcoming at some indefinite point in the future. It is further evidence that the entire endeavor does not deserve to be taken seriously. At best, the “reforms” would address some of the appalling discriminatory comments made earlier this year. But nothing proposed so far would compel a museum to submit to the commission, about which Bavaria in particular—the federal state that isin the midst of its own scandal for returning art to actual Nazis while giving heirs the runaround—notoriously refuses even to appear before the commission
We filed yesterday the opposition to the motion to dismiss my clients’ claims over the 1935 forced sale of the Guelph Treasure, or Welfenschatz. The motion was filed two months ago by defendants Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. As we noted when Germany first moved to dismiss the complaint last fall, Germany’s arguments were revisionist and alarming in a number of troubling ways, most seriously because they tried to excuse persecution of Jews before an arbitrary date as an internal affair not subject to U.S. court jurisdiction, and because it repudiated Germany’s international commitments under the Washington Principles to address restitution claims on the merits. The abject failure of the Advisory Commission, which Germany tries to portray here as some sort of arbitration (which it is not) is also at the fore.
Last week Germany’s Minister of Culture Monika Grütters made the astonishing statement that the Advisory Commission that issues recommendations for questions of allegedly Nazi-looted art in German museums would not be revised to include a member of the Jewish community because that Jewish member “would be the only voice who would be prejudiced.” The statement was not idle gossip, it was to the New York Times, which was writing a feature piece about her. This was a shockingly tone-deaf statement for a German cabinet member to make. Even in a vacuum, it is logically indefensible; why would a Jewish member be more biased than a German member (about which she had no objection). And, of course, it is not a vacuum—we are talking about Germany.
Two days after suspending their participation in the Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property, often called the "Limbach Commission" after its presiding member Jutta Limbach (the Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturguts, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz), the heirs of Alfred Flechtheim withdrew from the proceedings entirely. The dispute concerns Violon et encrier (Violin and Inkwell) (1913) by Juan Gris in the Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Art Collections Foundation of North Rhine-Westphalia) in Düsseldorf.
Sophisticated Analysis of Adolph von Menzel Drawing Distinguishes Itself from Recent Revisionism Elsewhere
As the original term of the Gurlitt Task Force (Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund) winds down, the panel has issued a report on a work that it deems appropriate for restitution: Interior of a Gothic Church (Inneres einer gottischen Kirche) by Adolph von Menzel (pencil drawing, signed/dated 1874). The drawing has been called Church in Hofgastein in some English language articles.
Topics: Interior of a Gothic Church, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Nazi Germany, Inneres einer gottischen Kirche, Dresden, Gurlitt Task Force, Adolph von Menzel, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt Collection, Ernst Julius Wolffson, Washington Principles on Nazi-Looted Art, Advisory Commission, Munich, Albert Martin Wolffson, Salzburg, Restitution, Catrin Lorch, Bavaria, World War II, Switzerland, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Austria, Kunstmuseum Bern, Federal Republic of Germany, Raubkunst, Taskforce Schwabinger Kunstfund, Elsa Helene Cohen, Limbach Commission, Jörg Häntzschel
We reported last week on the outrage over the decision by Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) to argue in their motion to dismiss my clients’ claims to the Welfenschatz that a commercial interaction between German Jews and a cabal instigated by Hermann Goering in 1935 “predated the Holocaust by several years.” As we noted last week, the suggestion that the Holocaust was a distant possibility in 1935 was an indefensible statement, factually, historically, and ethically. The initial reaction was swift and severe. As Germany gets ready to host the First Conference of the German Centre for Cultural Property Losses next week, its policies are hurtling in the wrong direction.
Topics: Jewish Week Mel Urbach, Hermann Goering First Conference of the German Cen, Guelph Treasure, Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums, Henning Kahmann, Atlanta, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Varda Neumann Federal Administrative Court, Yale University, Marion Kaplan, New York University, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Hitler, Kristallnacht Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Markus Stoetzel, Emory University, Behrens, Holocaust, Bloodlands, SPK, Advisory Commission, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Restitution, Los Angeles, World War II, Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil, Washington, Raubkunst, Timothy Snyder, Welfenschatz
It has been almost two weeks since I filed my clients’ claims for restitution of the Guelph Treasure (Welfenschatz).
Topics: Maria Altmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, National Socialists, Third Reich, artdaily.org, Reuters, United States Supreme Court, Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Haaretz, Deutschlandradio. Deutsche Presse Agentur, Robin Young, the Guardian, The Art Newspaper, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, The Wall Street Journal, Deutsche Welle, Santa Fe, KRQE News 13, the Observer, Markus Stoetzel, Die Erle, Mel Urbach, Nazis, Advisory Commission, 3SAT, ZDF, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Washington DC, Hermann Goering, Private Wealth, Restitution, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Here & Now, Gerald Stiebel, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, flight tax, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Adolf Hitler, United States District Court, The New York Times, Federal Republic of Germany, BBC News Europe, Alan Phillip, Welfenschatz, NPR, PrivateArtInvestor, ArtNet news
I filed yesterday a new civil action against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (the SPK, which is responsible the administration of the Berlin museums, among other things) in the United States District Court in Washington, DC. You can read the Complaint here. The lawsuit seeks the immediate restitution to my clients of the collection held by the SPK known as the Welfenschatz, or as it is referred to in English, the Guelph Treasure. My clients Gerald Stiebel and Alan Phillip are the blood relatives and successors to the consortium of Jewish art dealers who were threatened and forced by the National Socialist government into selling the Welfenschatz in 1935.
Topics: Maria Altmann, National Socialists, Third Reich, Philipp v. Federal Republic of Germany et al. 15-c, United States Supreme Court, Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, Nazis, Advisory Commission, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Washington DC, Hermann Goering, Restitution, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Gerald Stiebel, World War II, flight tax, Adolf Hitler, United States District Court, Federal Republic of Germany, Alan Phillip, Welfenschatz
Topics: Maria Altmann, National Socialists, Third Reich, Philipp v. Federal Republic of Germany et al. 15-c, United States Supreme Court, Guelph Treasure, Gestapo, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, Nazis, Advisory Commission, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Washington DC, Hermann Goering, Restitution, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Gerald Stiebel, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, flight tax, Adolf Hitler, United States District Court, Federal Republic of Germany, Alan Phillip, Welfenschatz