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.  

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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.

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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

Gurlitt Bequest to Kunstmuseum Bern is Upheld

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 15, 2016 at 9:48 AM

Cousin Had Challenged His Capacity to Make a Will Shortly Before 2014 Death

After a two-year legal battle, the Oberlandesgericht in Munich has upheld the dismissal of Uta Werner’s challenge to the will made by Cornelius Gurlitt in 2014 that designated the Kunstmuseum Bern as his heir, including the bequest of his controversial painting collection.  Less than six months after it was revealed in November 2013 that the Bavarian authorities had seized 1,280 objects from his Schwabing home in Munich, Gurlitt wrote a will that designated that his entire collection would go to the Swiss museum.  Barring some extraordinary appeal, the bequest will now be final and the collection will go to Switzerland.  While lifting considerable uncertainty about the fate of the collection as a whole, this development does not address the lack of clarity about the process by which the objects that are suspected of having been looted by the Nazis will be examined or returned.

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Topics: Bayern, Hildebrand Gurlitt, Cornelius Gurlitt, Nazi-looted art in Munich, SZ, Uta Werner, Nazi-looted art, Oberlandesgericht, Munich, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Catrin Lorch, Free State of Bavaria, Kunstmuseum Bern, Washington Principles, Jörg Häntzschel, Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB)

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).

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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

Heirs of Nazi-Persecuted Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim Sue Bavarian Museums

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 6, 2016 at 11:20 AM

Paintings by Beckmann, Gris and Klee Valued at Nearly $20 Million That Once Belonged to Flechtheim Are at Issue in New York Lawsuit

Sullivan & Worcester LLP has filed suit against Bavaria and its state museums in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on behalf of our clients Dr. Michael Hulton and Mrs. Penny Hulton, heirs to the renowned and persecuted Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim.  The Hultons have asked the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to restitute several paintings by Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, and Juan Gris that are now in the possession of the German federal state of Bavaria, Adolf Hitler’s and the Nazi party’s homeland, and its Bavarian State Paintings Collections (known in German as the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, or BSGS).  We are aided in this case by our co-counsel Markus Stoetzel and Mel Urbach, Esq.

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Topics: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Cornelius Gurlitt, Deutschlandradio. Deutsche Presse Agentur, Monuments Men, Nazi-looted art, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Max Beckmann, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, Paul Klee, FSIA, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Bavaria, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, World War II, Alfred Flechteim, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Dr. Michael Hulton, Juan Gris, George Grosz

Changes to Limbach Commission Announced, Real Change Now Seems Out of Reach

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on November 15, 2016 at 10:43 AM

Three New Members Are Added but German Museums Can Still Decline to Participate

After nearly a year of hinting at changes the Advisory Commission in Germany that makes recommendations to state museums on claims for allegedly Nazi-looted works in their collections (“Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogener Kulturgüter, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz,” or “Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property”), the federal government announced last week the addition of three new members.  Yet despite public outcry over the outdated and opaque procedures of the commission (better known as the Limbach Commission, in reference to the late Jutta Limbach, presiding member and former judge of the Constitutional Court), none of the fundamental flaws in the panel have been confronted or addressed.  Instead, the occasion has served as little more than another photo opportunity for federal Minister of Culture Monika Grütters, whose visage dutifully accompanies all the recent announcements.

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Topics: Legislation, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Stefan Koldehoff, Beratende Kommission, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Bavarian State Paintings Collection, Looted Art, World War II, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Monika Grütters, Limbach Commission, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Raphael Gross, Gary Smith, Marion Eckart-Hofer, Simon Dubnow Institute, American Academy in Berlin, Rudiger Mahlo, Jewish Claims Conference

Norton Simon Museum Prevails Against Von Saher Claim to Cranachs Looted by the Nazis

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 16, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Just as it appeared that the first trial in years would begin next month on a claim of Nazi-looted art, the much publicized Von Saher case has come to an end with a judgment that entered yesterday.  The U.S. District Court awarded the Norton Simon Museum summary judgment on the claims to ownership of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder, ending pending further appeal a nearly decade-old litigation.  Over the years, the Von Saher case has made new law about statutes of limitations, constitutional law, and the scope of U.S. foreign policy as it impacts the courts.  Like the Cassirer case last year, it is a bitter blow for the claimants who labored for years to recover the paintings and for whom it appeared their day in court had arrived.  This is all the more so because there was no dispute in the briefing that the paintings had been expropriated by Hermann Göring’s rapacious henchman.    

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Topics: Norton Simon Museum, Alois Miedl, Jacques Goudstikker, Nazi-looted art, Hermann Goering, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Marei Von Saher, World War II

More of the Same—Latest Limbach Commission “Reform” is Anything But

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 11, 2016 at 11:33 AM

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

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Topics: Alfred Flechtheim, Germany, Nazi-looted art, Advisory Commission, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, Bavaria, World War II, Limbach Commission

Another Bombshell in Munich—Bavarian Government Sold Looted Art to Nazi Families

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 26, 2016 at 4:49 PM

Works returned by Monuments Men to Bavaria for restitution to victims instead sold to Nazis’ families

Journalists Catrin Lorch Jörg Häntzschel published this weekend an explosive revelation in Sueddeutsche Zeitung entitled “the Munich Looted Art Bazaar,” reporting on the work of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE): the government of Bavaria sold artworks returned to it after World War II by the famed Monuments Men that were supposed to be restituted to the victims of Nazi looting.  Not only was the art given back to the German state on the explicit condition that it be restituted to the victims of Nazi art plunder, in some cases it was literally returned to the families of Nazi officials, such as Emmy Goering (Hermann’s daughter) and Henriette von Schirach rather than to the victims themselves.  Less than a month after the Federal Republic of Germany’s toxic and revisionist reply brief in the Welfenschatz case (which argued, among other things, that individual claimants cannot sue because the U.S. policy was this national level restitution), the ramifications are far reaching for Germany’s self-professed adherence to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Looted Art of 1998.  While the specific artwork in question may be less significant than most of the works found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment four years ago, the revelation is in many ways much, much worse.  The CLAE scholarship that lead to this schocking development cannot be praised enough. 

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Topics: Monuments Men, Nazi-looted art, Munich, Gurlitt, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, World War II

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

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

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