New US law will speed recovery of art stolen by Nazis

“Allowing them the opportunity to recover part of their history is a small but significant step that’s long overdue.” 

Heirs trying to recover artwork lost to Nazi looting during the Holocaust will get some help from legislation signed Friday by US President Barack Obama.

The legislation will extend statutes of limitations for the recovery of that art so that the heirs can have their day in court. In recent years, courts have sided with several museums on the issue and blocked family members who believe the art is theirs.

“The systematic theft of property by the Nazis during the Holocaust robbed victims and their families of important parts of their heritage,” said Senator John Cornyn, who sponsored the legislation with fellow Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz. “Allowing them the opportunity to recover part of their history is a small but significant step that’s long overdue.”

Earlier this year, a judge ruled in favor of a Southern California museum in its 10-year legal battle over the ownership of two German Renaissance masterpieces that were seized by the Nazis in World War II. The judge said that because the art dealership decided not to seek restitution for the works after the war, the family thereby abandoned its claim to the art.

In 2009, the United States and other countries agreed to ensure that their own legal systems “facilitate just and fair solutions with regard to Nazi-confiscated and looted art.” The senators said this legislation is to fulfill that promise.

The Nazis organized looting of European countries during the time of the Third Reich. Nazi plundering occurred from 1933 until the end of World War II, particularly by military units known as the Kunstschutz.

In addition to gold, silver and currency, cultural items of great significance were also stolen, including paintings, ceramics, books, and religious treasures.

There is an international effort underway to identify Nazi loot that remains unaccounted for, with the aim of ultimately returning the items to the rightful owners, their families or their respective countries.

Many Jewish families have fought, or are fighting, to reclaim ownership over family heirlooms that are currently held by museums and other institutions around the world.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff