• 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

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
Man shot in tax office dispute
DPA

Man shot in tax office dispute

A tax office worker in the Schleswig-Holstein town of Rendsburg died in hospital after being shot on Monday morning. READ  

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs
Angela Merkel addressing the Bundestag on Monday as her ministers look on. Photo: DPA

Merkel details Iraq arms shipment to MPs

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the Bundestag on Monday to explain her government's decision to send weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting terrorist group Isis. READ  

Olympic visions compete in Berlin and Hamburg
Berlin and Hamburg mayors Klaus Wowereit and Olaf Scholz on Monday. Photos: DPA

Olympic visions compete in Berlin and Hamburg

Germany's capital and its gateway to the North Sea each released details of their Olympic bids on Monday as the race for the 2024 or 2028 summer games nominations picks up momentum. READ  

Vacationer killed by Baltic Sea bacteria
Photo: DPA

Vacationer killed by Baltic Sea bacteria

Six people were infected with a bacteria from the Caribbean which has made itself at home in the popular German vacation destination. One of them is now in a coma. READ  

UN applauds Germany's help to refugees
DPA

UN applauds Germany's help to refugees

UNHCR Commissioner Antonio Guterres is lauding Germany's role in accommodating the influx of refugees in Europe, while pointing at the imbalance of effort within the EU. The federal government has pledged to do more. READ  

Energy-sucking vacuums no longer welcome
Photo: DPA

Energy-sucking vacuums no longer welcome

Starting on Monday, vacuum cleaners drawing more than 1600 watts can no longer be brought into Germany. The ban is part of a an EU-wide environmental protection measure. READ  

Coalition horsetrading starts after Saxony vote
CDU leader Stanislav Tillich with SPD Martig Dulig. Photo: DPA

Coalition horsetrading starts after Saxony vote

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic (CDU) party is in search of a new partner after the expulsion of its former allies the Free Democrats (FDP) from the Saxon state parliament. READ  

Presented by Phorms Education
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation
Photo: Phorms Education

Bilingual education from nursery to graduation

A network of German based schools is changing how students learn languages by introducing English and Deutsch from day one, with the method yielding impressive academic results. The Local finds out more about Phorms Education. READ  

JobTalk Germany
'German bosses need to praise more'
More of this? Photo: Shutterstock

'German bosses need to praise more'

What do German bosses need to do to get more out of their staff? Frankfurt-based business consultant Justin Bariso has this advice. READ  

Train drivers take their turn to strike
A banner announcing a previous rail strike in June is displayed in a station. Photo: DPA

Train drivers take their turn to strike

A train drivers' union has warned of a nationwide strike to take place on Monday evening as it seeks leverage in negotiations with Deutsche Bahn. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten of the oddest things found by German border control
Photo: Gerkan, Marg and Partners/Tegel Projekt GmbH/J. Mayer
Berlin
How will Berlin look in five years' time?
Photo: DPA
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The best of Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit in 14 pictures
Photo: DPA
Politics
Germany sends burgers and sausages to Kurds
Photo: Matthias Kock
National
Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life
Photo: DPA
Gallery
10 things to do before summer in Germany is really over
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

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

3,430
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd