• Germany edition
 
Nazi looted art law could aid returns
Max Liebermann's Riders on the Beach, found in Gurlitt's collection, of uncertain provenence. Photo: DPA

Nazi looted art law could aid returns

Published: 12 Feb 2014 09:04 GMT+01:00
Updated: 12 Feb 2014 09:04 GMT+01:00

Germany will this week debate a draft law to aid the return of Nazi-looted art, amid criticism of official foot-dragging after the recent shock discovery of a spectacular hoard of masterpieces.

Nearly 70 years after Hitler's defeat, the bill will be presented on Friday in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat -- which represents the 16 federal states at the national level -- with the aim of helping the restitution of art that was extorted or stolen from Jewish collectors.

If enacted, the Bavaria-drafted bill would eliminate a statute of limitations applied to stolen property, usually 30 years, that some art collectors have used to protect their holdings from claims.

The move comes three months after news broke that around 1,400 long-lost works by the likes of Picasso, Cezanne and Degas had been discovered in the Munich flat of an elderly German recluse.

Another 60-odd artworks, including pieces by Monet and Renoir, have also been unearthed at the Salzburg house in Austria of 81-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, his spokesman said in a surprise announcement Tuesday.

The proposed law has been dubbed the "Lex Gurlitt" after the son of a Nazi-era art dealer in whose apartment the art hoard was found in 2012, a discovery which authorities long kept quiet.

Mixed reception

So far the reception has been mixed to the new push to right past wrongs.

"In principle this draft law is a positive sign," said Markus Stötzel, lawyer for the descendants of Alfred Flechtheim, a leading 20th century German Jewish art dealer.

"It shows that the political conscience is in the process of waking up in Germany after lapses in the past. The Gurlitt case has got things moving," he told AFP.

However Sabine Rudolph -- representing the heirs of a Jewish lawyer from Dresden, Fritz Salo Glaser, who are demanding the restitution of at least 13 artworks from the Gurlitt trove -- was more sceptical.

"In my opinion this draft law is just a case of 'action for show'," she said.

She took aim in particular at a clause that victims' heirs must prove the work's current holder acted in bad faith, by knowing the item's origin or having clear evidence for it.

"How do you want them to do that?" she asked.

Stötzel also underscored the practical difficulties of such a condition after so many years and said the draft law, which would also have to pass the lower house, was only "a first step".

"After 70 years, in many cases, knowledge about the fate of paintings is very basic. Many documents have been lost," he said.

Culture Minister Monika Grütters has acknowledged the hurdles and predicted "some difficulties in its implementation" in recent comments to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.

She said she was pondering, together with the justice minister, "legal possibilities" that could help.

'Evidence of good faith'

Germany in 1998 signed the Washington Declaration which commits its 44 signatory nations to track down and return art stolen by the Nazis to its rightful owners.

But the non-binding agreement applies only to states, public institutions and private museums, not to individuals.

Soon after World War II, then West Germany planned to pass legislation to tackle the issue of Nazi-looted art found in the country's museums but the Allies -- Britain, France and the United States -- rejected the move, fearing it would prove chaotic.

The head of the World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder last month urged Germany to introduce a law to specifically facilitate the return of Nazi-looted art and welcomed the draft law as "evidence of good faith".

He noted in a Berlin speech that Germany, in atoning for its past, had already negotiated compensation on slave labour, stolen bank deposits and insurance policies.

 "I encourage Germany to deal with Nazi-looted art in the same comprehensive manner," he said, calling the works "the last prisoners of World War II".

And he said the onus should be on museums, not the victims of Nazi plundering, to search through their collections for stolen works and track down their rightful owners.

"Austria has done this. France and Holland have made steps in this direction and the UK has a commission that is available to examine claims and advise the government on restitution," he said.

"But this is Germany, where the crime began. More is required."

READ MORE: Germany doubles funding to return Nazi art

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Child's near death sparks row over refugee homes
Leonardo had to have a finger and toe amputated after staff refused to call an ambulance. Photo: DPA

Child's near death sparks row over refugee homes

A political row has broken out in Bavaria after an asylum seekers' home failed to help a toddler who almost died of meningitis. The case has raised concerns about the treatment of refugees in the state. READ () »

Bayern and Dortmund to face off for German Cup
Kaiserslautern fans let off flares in the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night. Photo: DPA

Bayern and Dortmund to face off for German Cup

Holders Bayern Munich will face Borussia Dortmund in next month's German Cup final after cruising to a 5-1 win over second-division Kaiserslautern in Wednesday's semi-final. READ () »

Zalando hits back after undercover report
Working conditions at online retailer Zalando are under the spotlight. Photo: DPA

Zalando hits back after undercover report

Online fashion retailer Zalando has prompted an investigation by state prosecutors in Erfurt against an undercover journalist who revealed alleged "trade secrets" in a TV report on Monday night. READ () »

Ex-minister jailed over F1 race track scandal
Ingolf Deubel in court on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Ex-minister jailed over F1 race track scandal

A former state finance minister was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on Wednesday, having been found guilty of embezzling money in the scandal around the failed sale of the Nürburgring Formula One race track. READ () »

Upper Bavaria boasts lowest EU unemployment
A Bavarian worker works hard Photo: DPA

Upper Bavaria boasts lowest EU unemployment

Southern and central Bavaria have the lowest unemployment in the EU, according to figures released on Tuesday, with one business leader boasting the area has “de facto full employment”. READ () »

Thousands of tax evaders come forward to declare
Uli Hoeneß was jailed last month for tax evasion. Photo: DPA

Thousands of tax evaders come forward to declare

The number of German tax evaders who have self-declared to avoid prosecution trebled in the first quarter of 2014, figures published on Wednesday showed, with the rise put down to the "Uli Hoeneß effect". READ () »

Petition fails to remove WWII Russian tanks
One of the WWII Russian tanks near the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA

Petition fails to remove WWII Russian tanks

The German government rejected on Wednesday a call by two newspapers to remove Russian tanks from a World War II memorial in central Berlin in protest against spiralling tensions in Ukraine. READ () »

Germany warns Ukraine talks must not fail
A Ukrainian policeman at a checkpoint in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Germany warns Ukraine talks must not fail

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday that scheduled four-way talks on the Ukraine crisis must not fail, warning of "the threat of more dead and injured". READ () »

Olympic stadium could be giant polling station
Berlin's Olympic Stadium. Photo: DPA

Olympic stadium could be giant polling station

Berlin's Olympic stadium could become the world's biggest polling station if the Turkish community gets the go-ahead to vote there in Turkey’s general elections. READ () »

The Local List
Nine ways to celebrate Easter like a German
Photo: DPA

Nine ways to celebrate Easter like a German

From rolling wheels filled with burning hay down a hill, to waiting for a fox to bring eggs, The Local List this week looks at the nine best German Easter traditions. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Nine ways to celebrate Easter like a German
Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt
Gallery
World War I in colour photos
Photo: DPA
Society
'The mafia has infiltrated every sector in Germany'
Photo: DPA
Society
JobTalk: Why you should teach English in Germany
Photo: DPA
National
330,000 sign up against TV licence fee
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
School kids hospitalized after 'porno' party
Photo: Submitted
Frankfurt
'I'll get even with my old pal Schwarzenegger'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The week in pictures: April 5th - April 11th
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten great inventions you (probably) didn't know were German
Photo: J. Arthur White
Berlin
Clashes in Berlin as refugees tear down their own camp
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Munich's baby polar bears are finally named
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The 10 best German employers to work for
Advertisement:
CurrencyFair
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
Mr. Lodge
Sponsored Article
How to find a furnished rental in Munich
Sponsored Article
How to make a lasting impression in business
Hult International Business School
Sponsored Article
What they don't teach you at Business School
Photo: DPA
Society
Nine jobs you can only do in Germany
Photo:ESL
Sponsored Article
How to integrate successfully in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,133
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd