70 years after the Holocaust, art stolen by Nazis still on display in U.S. museums

by WorldTribune Staff, June 9, 2016

Sen. Ted Cruz is spearheading new legislation aimed at stopping U.S. museums from “waiting out the clock” in a bid to keep high-priced artworks looted by Nazis from being returned to Jewish Holocaust victims.

“Over 70 years later — we are still trying to cope with the consequences of the Holocaust,” Cruz said during a June 7 meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “One consequence that we are here today to address is the Nazis’ looting of hundreds of thousands of works of art and other cultural property in what has been described as the ‘greatest displacement of art in human history.’ ”

“Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” by Camille Pissarro, at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma. /AP
“Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep” by Camille Pissarro, which was looted by Nazis during WWII, at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma. /AP

“Much of the stolen property was never reunited with their rightful owners,” Cruz added. “And over the years, often through sheer happenstance, many works found their way into American museums and galleries.”

The HEAR Act would empower Holocaust survivors and their families to have claims over the art looted during World War II adjudicated in a timely fashion, Cruz said.

“This bill will help ensure that claims for the restitution of Nazi-looted art are adjudicated based on the facts and merits, and are not short-circuited by technical or non-merits defenses that often work to the disadvantage of Holocaust victims and their families,” he said.

Ambassador Ronald Lauder, council chair of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, told the Judiciary Committee that “governments, museums, and many knowing [art] collectors” have been amassing artworks originally owned by Jewish victims of Hitler’s Nazi death machine.

“There are museums here in the United States that have been waiting out the clock to pass the statute of limitations” on existing laws, Lauder said.

“This also forces claimants to spend enormous amounts of money on legal fees — another strategy to make them give up,” Lauder said. “This is not justice. Stalling claims is an abuse of the system.”

“What makes this particular crime even more despicable is that this art theft, probably the greatest in history, was continued by governments, museums, and many knowing collectors in the decades following the war,” he said. “This was the dirty secret of the post-war art world, and people who should have known better, were part of it. In many cases, legal barriers like arbitrary statutes of limitations were imposed on families that had not been aware that their father’s painting was hanging in a private home or state museum.”

The HEAR Act would reset the clock on these legal statutes in order to give Holocaust victims another chance to reclaim their property, he said.