• 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)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
North braces for storms and floods
Cars waiting to be loaded onto the ferry at Bremerhaven, Lower Saxony, were caught in flooding on Wendnesday. Photo: DPA

North braces for storms and floods

UPDATE: The remnants of hurricane Gonzalo have drifted across the Atlantic and are now threatening North German cities with flooding, forecasters warned on Wednesday. The news followed a night of accidents caused by heavy winds in southern Germany. READ  

Kerry's challenge to Russia at Berlin Wall
US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Berlin Wall. Photo: DPA

Kerry's challenge to Russia at Berlin Wall

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited remnants of the Berlin Wall on Wednesday and warned that East-West tensions again threaten freedom in Europe, 25 years after its collapse. READ  

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Sonneborn in the EU Parliament. Photo: DPA

Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train

Martin Sonneborn can’t believe his luck. The German comedian, leader of the political party “Die Partei”, managed to get elected to the European Parliament in May, and has found himself overwhelmed with fresh material. READ  

The Local List
Which high school cliche is your city?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock

Which high school cliche is your city?

This week's Local List takes a leap of imagination and finds German cities fit perfectly into high school cliche categories. Who's the class clown? Who's the nerd? READ  

Indian schools drop German teaching
Indian pupils enrolled in German classes prepare for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's visit to their school. Photo: DPA

Indian schools drop German teaching

Thousands of children in India will no longer be taught German after the country's education ministry allowed a contract to lapse. READ  

Syria-bound US teens stopped in Frankfurt
A passenger plane landing at Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA

Syria-bound US teens stopped in Frankfurt

Three teenage girls from Colorado were arrested by German police at Frankfurt airport after running away from home, reportedly on their way to join Isis in Syria. READ  

Tourists stranded on cable car over Rhine
Tuesday night's rescue operation Photo: DPA

Tourists stranded on cable car over Rhine

Six people, including a family and two American tourists, were left dangling 40 metres in the air over the Rhine for hours late on Tuesday after Cologne's cable car came to a halt. READ  

7:1! Bayern celebrate record in Rome
Arjen Robben celebrates the first goal against AS Roma. Photo: DPA

7:1! Bayern celebrate record in Rome

Bayern Munich were elated on Tuesday night after securing a 7-1 victory against Roma in their group stage Champions League clash. READ  

Nazi U-boat wreck found off US coast
A preserved World War II U-Boat on the beach near Kiel, Germany. Photo: DPA

Nazi U-boat wreck found off US coast

A World War II German U-boat and an American merchant vessel it sank in battle have been found deep in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, officials said on Tuesday. READ  

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?
Coming soon? Photo: DPA

Fourth time lucky for free Berlin WiFi?

Berlin's bid to set up a free city-wide wireless network has so far come to nothing. But city bosses are now trying for a fourth time - and hope to have the project running next year. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Robbers blow up Berlin bank
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: Facebook
Society
German motorcycle gang joins Isis fight
Photo: DPA
Politics
UKIP ‘seeks EU pact’ with German satirical party
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: World's biggest erotic fair opens in Berlin
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The ten richest people in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
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

3,491
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd