Is There an Effective US Legal Remedy for Original Owners of Art Looted During the Nazi Era in Europe?
CitationHayhow, Van L. 2015. Is There an Effective US Legal Remedy for Original Owners of Art Looted During the Nazi Era in Europe?. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThis research project attempts to answer the question of whether it is possible to design a system wherein the rights of current possessors and the rights of original owners or their descendants of art that may have been looted during the Nazi era in Germany can be fairly balanced to achieve results that would be both fair and economical to the parties involved. While it could be said that twenty years ago this issue was hardly noticed, and very few lawsuits or claims were made, in recent years a large number of lawsuits have been filed against museums and private individuals claiming that the defendants own art that was stolen from the original owners or were taken from them in forced sales designed to give a patina of legitimacy to what were thefts by other means. Museums and others have defended themselves, first claiming that not all sales of that era were fraudulent, and second, claiming that the claimants’ claims should be denied as they were dilatory in making the claims and that the statutes of limitations have expired. While it is true that in many cases decades passed before such claims were filed, the reasons for this are also explored.
Two lawsuits have been chosen to serve as exemplars. One suit was brought against a private owner and the other against a museum. This was done to show the differences in the techniques and strategies used. The hypothesis was that there is no practical solution available to bring about the fair and just result most would seek. Complicating matters is that with the federal government and the fifty states, there are too many sources of law to easily bring together in a unified solution. While there are many plausible solutions, the most plausible is for the federal government to step in and set up a national system. At this time, the government lacks the will to act, leaving the parties with no solution.
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