The extermination of 6 million Jews was not the only horror committed by the Nazis (sorry alt-right Trump supporters, it’s true) leading up (from 1933) to and during World War II. Known as “Nazi Plunder”, Hitler’s henchmen stole cultural items of great significance such as paintings, ceramics, books, and religious treasures.
While much of the art has been recovered, many are still missing. There is an international effort underway to identify this art, but there is a problem. Currently, lawyers and places accused of possessing the art are claiming the statute of limitations for claiming has expired because they claim the statute begins at the time the crime was committed – during World War II and prior.
That’s absurd because it wouldn’t allow for nearly any recovery of the stolen art. Ted Cruz and other Senators are introducing legislation to change that:
The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act would set a six-year statute of limitations on claims for Nazi-era stolen art, which would begin upon discovery of the art.
“Over 70 years later, we’re still trying to cope with the consequences of the Holocaust,” Cruz said during the hearing. “This bill will help ensure that claims for restitution of Nazi-looted art are adjudicated based on the actual facts and merits” and not “by technical or non-merits defenses that far too often work to the disadvantage of Holocaust victims and their families.”
In addition, this legislation is a bi-partisan effort:
Referring to his co-sponsors—Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who introduced the bill in April; New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer; and Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal—Cruz said, “There are many issues on which the sponsors of this legislation…might disagree. But on this issue, I am proud to see bipartisan cooperation, coming together in defense of principles of justice.”
This bill is not a small thing.
The U.S. government has taken previous steps, some that started as early as 1945, to help recover the estimated 650,000 works of art stolen by the Nazis. As a major turning point, restitution experts point to the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, hosted by the U.S. Department of State, which established principles for dealing with restitution claims.
But the principles didn’t go far enough, those same experts say. Nor did the subsequent American Alliance of Museums guidelines and similar conferences in Lithuania in 2000 and the Czech Republic in 2009. Speaking with Newsweek, some of those experts point to institutions increasingly using technical defenses, such as the statute of limitations, to hold on to art.
Raymond Dowd, a lawyer who has represented claimants in several Nazi-era restitution cases, says the bill is an “earth-shattering” and unprecedented step forward. “Museums have worked to shut the courthouse doors to these victims, so this would open the courthouse doors, and it’s extraordinary,” he says.
Good for them. I hope this helps.