Art Law Report

Nazi-Looting and Forced Sales Support Jurisdiction—Guelph Treasure Ruling Analysis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on April 3, 2017 at 10:02 AM

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.  

Read More

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

U.S. District Court Issues First of Its Kind Ruling Against Germany Over Renowned Guelph Treasure

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 31, 2017 at 4:32 PM

Under Landmark Ruling, Germany Must Now Defend Nazi-Looted Art Claims in U.S. Court

WASHINGTON (March 31, 2017)- The United States District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that claims over the famed Guelph Treasure can proceed against Germany in a United States court. This is the first time Germany will have to defend itself in the U.S. against allegations of looted Nazi art and artifacts. The claims arise out of the 1935 forced sale by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to Hermann Goering’s minions of the famed collection of medieval artifacts known as the Guelph Treasure.  The claims were filed by clients of Sullivan & Worcester LLP against the Federal Republic of Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, or SPK).  The court rejected the Defendants’ arguments that they are immune from suit and held that the Plaintiffs’ claims can be considered a taking of property in violation of international law for the purpose of evaluating the court’s jurisdiction over Germany and the SPK..  Jed Leiber, Alan Philipp, and Gerald Stiebel may now proceed to litigate their claims for  their property’s rightful return.  Leiber, Philipp, and Stiebel are also represented by S&W’s co-counsel in this matter, Markus Stötzel and Mel Urbach, experienced counselors in the return of Nazi-looted art who have been fighting this case for over eight years and who decried Germany continuing to defend the Nazis’ and Herman Goering’s theft from Jews.

Read More

Topics: Guelph Treasure, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Mel Urbach, SPK, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, FSIA, expropriation exception”, NS Raubkunst, J.S. Goldschmidt, Markus Stötzel, Saemy Rosenberg, Adolf Hitler, Federal Republic of Germany, Zacharias Hackenbroch, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Welfenschatz, I. Rosenbaum, Paul Körner, Wannsee Conference

Looted Art Legislation—HEAR Act and Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act Set to Become Law

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 12, 2016 at 2:40 PM

Congress has passed and President Obama is expected to sign two bills related to looted art and the availability of U.S. courts to hear disputes over them.  The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act of 2016 and the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act (FCEJCA, for lack of a handy acronym) were both passed without objection both the House of Representatives on December 10, 2016, and are expected to be signed by President Obama shortly.  The HEAR Act is a major shift in the law of Nazi-looted art claims specifically, while the FCEJCA is controversial but unlikely to have a broad impact one way or another.  It is perhaps most remarkable that in an era of unique partisanship and political polarization, members of Congress from both parties and the President agreed on anything, let alone unanimously (sponsors include such unusual allies as Ted Cruz, Richard Blumenthal, John Cornyn, and Charles Schumer).

Read More

Topics: Legislation, Guelph Treasure, Alfred Flechtheim, Russia, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2459, FSIA, expropriation exception”, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, World War II, State Hermitage Museum, Charles Schumer, Immunity from Seizure Act, Chabad, 28 U.S.C. § 1605, John Cornyn, Welfenschatz, Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, Richard Blumenthal, Ted Cruz, Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, Mikhail Piotrovsky, Politico, Anita Difanis

Guelph Treasure Heirs Explain Why Case Belongs in U.S. Court

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on May 12, 2016 at 8:24 AM

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.

11_9_15_3_b1943001-e1447084778372-225x300-1.jpg  11_9_15_1_b1943004-e1447084823471-225x300-1.jpg

Read More

Topics: Guelph Treasure, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Advisory Commission, Beratende Kommission, FSIA, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, World War II, Welfenschatz, Limbach Commission

Live from the Oscars! German Cultural Ministry Disparages Possible Inclusion of Jewish Member on Advisory Commission

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 3, 2016 at 11:10 AM
Read More

Topics: Ronald S. Lauder, Guelph Treasure, Gurlitt Task Force, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt, Restitution, Monika Grütters, Raubkunst, Limbach Commission

Widespread Criticism Continues from Historians Over Germany’s and SPK’s Revisionism Concerning Holocaust and Forced Sales of Art

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on November 19, 2015 at 12:48 PM

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.

Read More

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

Despite Universal Criticism, German Cabinet Approves Stricter Cultural Heritage Law

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on November 16, 2015 at 5:40 AM

The German federal cabinet has approved a revision to its cultural heritage protection law notwithstanding overwhelming opposition by essentially everyone who commented, putting the draft on the fast track to legislative enactment next year.

Read More

Topics: cultural property, Guelph Treasure, VAT, Georg Baselitz, Germany, Minister of Culture Monika Grütters, EU, Artforum, Kulturgutschutzgesetz, Gerhard Richter, cultural heritage protection law, Michael Werner, Welfenschatz

Holocaust Revisionism in German Motion to Dismiss Guelph Claim Elicits Condemnation

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on November 9, 2015 at 6:28 AM

Germany Runs Counter to 20 Years of International Commitments

As readers know, my clients Alan Philipp and Gerald Stiebel sued the Federal Republic of Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) in February for restitution of the Guelph Treasure (or Welfenschatz as it is known in Germany), assisted by my co-counsel Mel Urbach, Esq. and Markus Stötzel of Marburg, Germany. As my co-counsel speak to an event tonight hosted by Congresswoman Grace Meng on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, an event inextricable to the persecution of Jews in Europe, Germany’s response to the Complaint advances a stunning revisionism about the Holocaust and the international commitments that Germany has made. While paying lip service to the seriousness of Jewish suffering, the papers filed in court are nothing less than an attempt to move the goalposts to exempt a historical period from responsibility about which there can be no serious debate. Independent condemnation was not far behind the filing.

Read More

Topics: Guelph Treasure, Grace Meng, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Shoah, Adolph von Menzel, Hans Sachs, Washington Principles on Nazi-Looted Art, 1943 London Inter-Allied Declaration, Dachau, Holocaust, Mel Urbach, SPK, George Eduard Behrens, Nuremberg race laws, Holocaust revisionism, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Marburg, Restitution, Los Angeles, Gerald Stiebel, World War II, Markus Stötzel, Saemy Rosenberg, Deutsches Historisches Museum, Reichskristallnacht, Isaac Rosenbaum, Lucie Ruth Hackenbroch, Federal Republic of Germany, Zacharias Hackenbroch, Pariser Wochentag, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Paris Weekday, Alan Philipp, Welfenschatz, Military Government Law 59, Frankfurt

Backwards, Not Forwards: German Cultural Ministry Submits Revised Cultural Heritage Protection Law

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 21, 2015 at 6:50 AM

After two months of scathing criticism, the German Ministry of Culture has submitted a watered-down, but still problematic, revision to its Cultural Heritage Protection Law. Back in July, Minister of Culture Monika Grütters announced the initial proposal to amend Germany’s law, or Kulturgutschutzgesetz. The revision, however, is optical at best, and seems targeted only to soften criticism while still taking a regressive view of cultural property that is more at home in the 18th century than the 21st. It will probably pass, to the detriment of forward thinking art market players who will move their trade elsewhere.

Read More

Topics: cultural property, Guelph Treasure, Georg Baselitz, German Cultural Ministry, U.S., Restitution, UNESCO, Switzerland, Austria, Kulturgutschutzgesetz, Gerhard Richter, Museums, Andy Warhol, Monika Grütters, Cultural Heritage Protection, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation, NAGPRA

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart Restitutes Wertinger Painting to Rosenbaum and Rosenberg Heirs, Citing Importance of Blocked Accounts That Also Support Guelph Treasure Claim

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 20, 2015 at 5:34 AM

The Staatsgalerie Stuttgart has agreed to return Bildnis Pfalzgraf Johann III (Portrait of Elector-Palatine Johann III), ca. 1526, by Hans Wertinger to the heirs of the art dealers Saemy Rosenberg and Isaak Rosenbaum, the owners of the art dealer firm I. Rosenbaum in Frankfurt. Rosenbaum and Rosenberg sold the Wertinger in 1936, but the proceeds were paid into a Nazi-blocked account. The work eventually ended up with collector Heinrich Scheufelen in 1948.

Read More

Topics: Guelph Treasure, Stefan Koldehoff, Joint Declaration, Nazi-looted art, Baden-Württemberg, Washington Principles on Nazi-Looted Art, Heinrich Scheufelen, Die Bilder Sind Unter Uns, SPK, Portrait of Elector-Palatine Johann III, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Nazi terror, Isaak Rosenbaum, Deutschlandfunk, Restitution, coerced sale, World War II, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Saemy Rosenberg, Jürgen Walter, Museums, forced sale, Zacharias Hackenbroch, Bildnis Pfalzgraf Johann III, Welfenschatz, The Pictures Are Under Us, I. Rosenbaum, Frankfurt

About the Blog


The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities.

Meet the Editor

Learn more about our Art & Museum Law practice

Subscribe to Blog

Posts by Topic

see all