Art Law Report

Court of Appeals Upholds Claims to Renowned Guelph Treasure Sold Under Duress to Nazi Agents

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 10, 2018 at 12:33 PM

(WASHINGTON-July 10, 2018) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has affirmed the right of the heirs to the so-called Guelph Treasure (known in German as the Welfenschatz) to seek restitution in U.S. courts for the value of the treasured art collection. The appellate court rejected Defendants’ arguments that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction, or that Germany’s treatment of its Jews in the 1930s should be immune from judicial scrutiny.  While the Federal Republic of Germany itself was dismissed as a defendant, the actual possessor and key party in interest (the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, or SPK) must now prove that a 1935 transfer of the collection by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to Hermann Goering’s minions was a legitimate transaction if they are to retain the collection. 

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Welfenschatz, Germany, SPK, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Nicholas M. O'Donnell, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, FSIA, D.C. Circuit, Consortium, Genocide Convention, J.S. Goldschmidt, I. Rosenbaum, Z.M. Hackenbroch, Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, Prussia, Luftwaffe, Reichstag, Gestapo, flight taxes, Baltimore Sun, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, NS Raubkunst, Nazi-looted art

Herzog Heirs Win Again in Appeals Court on Jurisdiction Over Hungarian Museums

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 26, 2017 at 10:48 AM

A federal appeals court has upheld the growing consensus that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) confers jurisdiction over foreign state actors in possession of art allegedly looted by and/or overseen by the Nazis.  Upholding last year’s District Court decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the ruling in De Csepel v. Republic of Hungary that denied several Budapest museums’ motion to dismiss, while allowing the Republic of Hungary itself out of the case.  This is the heirs second successful trip to the appellate court, where their claims were upheld in 2013.  The case is the subject of a chapter in my newly-released book A Tragic Fate--Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art (ABA Publishing). 

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Topics: FSIA, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Baron Herzog, David de Csepel, Angela Maria Herzog, András Herzog, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, expropriation exception”, genocide, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Welfenschatz, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, SPK, Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany, Cassirer v. Kingdom of Spain

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, Welfenschatz, FSIA, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, NS Raubkunst, Nazi-looted art, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, SPK, Germany, Advisory Commission, sovereign immunity, expropriation exception”, HEAR Act, Hermann Goering, Preemption

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

Jurisdictional Law Hailed as Impetus to End Russian Art Loan Embargo that is Actually Unaffected by that Law

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on January 6, 2017 at 12:39 PM

With reports that Russia is considering abandoning the nearly five year old embargo on loans of cultural artifacts into the United States, the cited connection between that willingness and the recent passage of the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act (FCEJICA) bears closer scrutiny that it has received to date.  If the unnecessary embargo were to come to an end it would be welcome news, but Russia’s claim that the new law is the reason is hard to square with the history of the issue.  It cannot be stated emphatically enough that the new law makes Russian art loans no more or less safe from seizure than they were before, because the law governing seizure of cultural objects (the Immunity from Seizure Act, or IFSA) has not changed.  Russia’s penchant for framing the question as something for which it needed protection is thus frustrating because it is simply incorrect.  The Russian loan embargo has been political theater from the time in began in 2012 in retaliation after Russian defendants lost a key litigation in Washington, DC, and the new law was passed in response to events that had nothing to do with Russia. 

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Topics: Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, FSIA, IFSA, 28 U.S.C. 1605(a)(3), Immunity from Seizure Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2259, Chabad, Russia, Malevich v. City of Amsterdam, Welfenschatz, Alfred Flechtheim

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: Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, Immunity from Seizure Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2459, Russia, Chabad, 28 U.S.C. § 1605, expropriation exception”, FSIA, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Welfenschatz, Alfred Flechtheim, Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional, Guelph Treasure, World War II, Restitution, Nazi-looted art, NS Raubkunst, Legislation, Ted Cruz, Charles Schumer, John Cornyn, Richard Blumenthal, Mikhail Piotrovsky, Politico, State Hermitage Museum, 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: Restitution, Alfred Flechteim, Dr. Michael Hulton, World War II, NS Raubkunst, Nazi-looted art, Gurlitt, Bavaria, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Max Beckmann, Juan Gris, Paul Klee, Cornelius Gurlitt, Monuments Men, Sullivan & Worcester LLP, Markus Stoetzel, Mel Urbach, FSIA, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, George Grosz, Deutschlandradio. Deutsche Presse Agentur, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Restitution Legislation: HEAR Act and Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act Move Forward

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on September 18, 2016 at 5:13 PM

 

Two restitution related bills have advanced past the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate: the Holocaust Expropriated Art Act (S.B. 2763, the HEAR Act), and the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act, S.B. 3155.  Their advancement for consideration by the full Senate is interesting since in many ways they are at cross purposes with each other.  The analytical coverage of each has also been somewhat frustrating insofar as much of the reasons expounded by their proponents do not really describe what the bills would do.  The HEAR Act would not restitute any Nazi looted art, rather, it would harmonize as federal law the statute of limitations on such claims.  The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act would not “reward” Russia or other foreign museums with art claimed by others, it would eliminate a jurisdictional scenario that has only happened once.  The fact is that both bills are of dubious merit because they are of limited effect, and may cause more harm than good.

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Topics: HEAR Act, Restitution, World War II, FSIA, IFSA, Foreign Cultural Exchange, Jurisdictional Clarification Act, Nazi-looted art, S.B. 2763, S.B. 3155, Ted Cruz, Legislation

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

$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

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