Art Law Report

No Buried Nazi Gold Train After All?

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 17, 2015 at 10:46 AM

Back in September, we voiced curious skepticism about breathless reports of a buried train near Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland.  Rumors of this “Nazi gold train” supposedly concealed at the end of World War II and filled with either gold, art, or both, had an odd mixture of plausibility and absurdity.  Yet Polish officials went on record confirming…something.  On August 28, 2015, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski stated at a press conference that he is “99 percent sure” that the government had located the train allegedly loaded with gold, gems, and perhaps artwork that was buried as the Soviet Red Army encircled Breslau in the last months of World War II.  “The train is 100 meters long and is protected,” Zuchowski said.

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Topics: Soviet, Breslau, Wrocław, Piotr Koper, Red Army, Nazi Gold Train, Walbrzych, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski, World War II, Poland, Washington Post, Janusz Madej, Andreas Richter, New York Times

Bruegel Painting In Vienna Spurs Argument Over Allegations of Nazi Looting in Poland

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on October 28, 2015 at 10:03 AM

Most often in restitution battles the disagreement boils down to whether a painting was looted, and/or whether it changed hands under circumstances that failed to pass clear title to the predecessor of its current possessor. Then, controversy frequently ensues about the extent to which the possessor resists restitution on grounds other than the title of the painting (jurisdiction, statute of limitations, etc.). Rarer is the type of dispute where the parties don’t even agree about what they’re disagreeing about, like the one brewing between Austria and Poland over a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder that hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559).

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Topics: Musée des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Krakow, Nazi-looted art, Diana Blonska, Gauleiter, Otto Gustav von Wächter, Feliks Kopera, Charlotte Wächter (née Bleckmann), Restitution, Kampf gegen Fasching und Fasten, Frau Wächter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Poland, Austria, Museums, Vienna, The Battle Between Carnival and Lent

$43.7 Million Interim Judgment Entered Against Russia for Refusal to Restitute Chabad Library

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 15, 2015 at 6:05 AM

It has been quite some time since there was occasion to update the dispute between the Chabad Lubavitch movement and Russia over Chabad’s efforts to obtain the return of the library of the movement’s late rabbi Menachem Schneerson and his predecessors (each known in his respective era as the “Rebbe”). There is now a major development. The court has granted the Chabad plaintiffs’ request to turn the daily sanctions that began to accrue in 2013 into an interim judgment, that is, to tally the $50,000 daily fines to date. The U.S. District Court in Washington, DC has done so, and entered a judgment against the Russian Federation, the Russian State Military Archive, the Russian State Library, and the Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication, for a total of $43.7 million. Notably, the judgment will increase automatically by $4.5 million every 90 days if not satisfied; the plaintiffs will not have to return to the court and ask for an amended judgment. Plaintiffs have already begun efforts to identify assets from which that judgment could be collected.

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Topics: Latvia, Sberbank, Nazi Germany, Russian State Military Archive, Menachem Schneerson, Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Rebbe, 28 U.S.C. § 1603, Russian Federation, FSIA, Restitution, Russian State Library, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Poland, Chabad Lubavitch, Soviet Union, Museums

What to Make of Nazi “Gold Train” Supposedly Buried in Poland

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 1, 2015 at 1:45 PM

I mostly ignored the initial twitterings about a supposedly secret train laden with gold and other Nazi-looted treasures that was buried somewhere near Wrocław, formerly Breslau, in Poland. My reasons were straightforward: just like supposed sightings of the Gardner Museum heist art, or the Amber Room, the story had all the hallmarks of a fable being peddled by someone who, perhaps not coincidentally, was suggesting that they be paid something for their trouble. Whether this is the next Gurlitt saga or just Al Capone’s vault, it’s too early to tell.

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Topics: the Holy Roman Empire, Al Capone’s vault, Soviet, Gauleiter Karl Hanke, Königsberg, Cornelius Gurlitt, Breslau, Wrocław, Prussia, Max Liebermann, East Prussia, Red Army, Nazi Gold Train, Amber Room, Bernsteinzimmer, the Hanseatic League, Walbrzych, Restitution, Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski, World War II, Markus Stötzel, Poland, the Duchy of Silesia, Bohemia, Riders on the Beach, David Friedmann, the Kingdom of Poland, Gardner Museum heist, the German Empire

Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Detailed Report Published on Worldwide Efforts to Restitute Nazi-Looted Art Since the 1998 Washington Conference

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 11, 2014 at 6:35 AM

After the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets and the eponymous Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Art that came out of it, it is hardly surprising that a recurring theme has been to assess the progress of those nations that participated and signed on. Equally unsurprisingly, those assessments are usually more anecdotal than empirical, and usually arise out of a particular case or cases in the context of that country’s response.

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Topics: Graham Bowley, Macedonia, Netherlands, Terezin Declaration, Mussolini, Latvia, Dr. Wesley A. Fisher, Hungary, ICOM, Bulgaria, Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spol, Germany, Bavarian Minister of Culture, Nazi-looted art, Die Welt, Belarus, Lex Gurlitt, Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, France, Dr. Ruth Weinberger, Romania, Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, Winfried Bausbeck, Belgium, Slovakia, Vichy, World Jewish Restitution Organization, Bundesrat, Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Stolen Ar, Gurlitt, WJRO, NS Raubkunst, Restitution, International Council of Museums, Norway, United States, Luxembourg, Looted Art, World War II, St. Petersburg, Poland, beschlagnahmte Kunst, Ukraine, Austria, Serbia, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germa, Italy, Bosnia, New York Times, Monika Grütters, Slovenia, Estonia, Museum and Politics Conference, National Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, entzogogene Kunst, Czech Republic

Gurlitt Task Force Issues Second Public Recommendation, Urges Restitution of Liebermann painting to David Toren—Lawsuit Not Over Yet

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on August 15, 2014 at 10:43 AM

Eileen Kinsella at ArtNet news reported today that the Gurlitt Taskforce has recommended the restitution of the Max Liebermann painting Riders on the Beach (Reiter am Strand) to David Toren, a New York man who left Germany at age 14 in 1939. His great uncle David Friedmann lived in Breslau, the capital of Silesia (now part of Poland, known as Wrocław). The Nazis catalogued and seized Friedmann’s art collection in 1939-40, and the Liebermann painting appears on those records. It was later found among those 1,280 objects seized from Gurlitt a little over two years ago when he aroused suspicion returning from Switzerland with a large amount of cash.

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Topics: Breslau, Eileen Kinsella, Wrocław, Gurlitt Task Force, Max Liebermann, Silesia, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt Collection, Entartete Kunst, Reiter am Strand, August Matteis, Restitution, David Toren, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2), World War II, Switzerland, degenerate art, Poland, Altmann v. Republic of Austria, Kunstmuseum Bern, www.lostart.de, Berner Zeitung, Riders on the Beach, David Friedmann, ArtNet news

Russia Sanctioned $50,000 per day for Defiance of Chabad Library Judgment that Led to Art and Cultural Loan Embargo

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on January 16, 2013 at 10:45 AM

In a case that has tested the principles of how a defiant sovereign defendant can be compelled to comply with a court order, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has taken an emphatic step in an order issued today. The Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications, the Russian State Library, and the Russian State Military Archive will be fined collectively $50,000 per day until they comply with a 2010 judgment to return the library of Menachem Schneerson, the late charismatic leader of the worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement, to the movement in Brooklyn, New York. Whereas the court lacked any power to compel the seizure of the library itself overseas, the plaintiffs will now be armed with a very real financial bludgeon against the defendants that have thumbed their noses at the U.S. courts for more than three years. In any case where the defendant refuses to obey a court order that court has a wide array of tools to compel compliance, but this case has been an awkward example of the limits on a court of law faced with an uncooperative party overseas. Particularly where the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1603 (the FSIA) was the basis for jurisdiction, as it is in so many wartime art restitution cases, and the fact that the 2010 judgment led to a still-ongoing embargo of art and cultural artifact loans to the United States, the decision is a significant one for the realm of art law.

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Topics: cultural property, Lativa, Menachem Schneerson, Germany, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Rebbe, 28 U.S.C. § 1603, Bolshevik, the Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communica, Russian Federation, the Russian State Library, FSIA, Restitution, the Russian State Military Archive, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Agudas Chasei Chabad, Poland, Russian Revolution, Soviet Union, Immunity from Seizure Act

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