Boston lawyer Nicholas O'Donnell accuses the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) alongside the German government of having failed to respond to his clients' claims of ownership over the treasure, and has brought a case before a court in the US District of Columbia.
The heirs, Alan Philipp from London and Gerald Stiebel from the USA, say their ancestors were forced to sell the collection of medieval devotional objects in 1935 for an extremely low price.
“If Germany argues otherwise, it would still be explicitly endorsing [Hermann] Göring's plundering in 2015,” they wrote in the allegations, referring to Hitler's right-hand man and creator of the Gestapo secret police.
SPK president Hermann Parzinger said he was “astonished” by the case, saying that he believed years of research into the treasure's history would convince the American court.
Researchers from the SPK and the Limbach Commission into Nazi-stolen art, led by a former Supreme Court judge, declared in 2014 that there was no evidence the Guelph treasure was in fact confiscated.
Philipp and Stiebel call the investigation a “whitewash” in their suit, saying they felt like they were experiencing the same discrimination as their ancestors did during the Nazi period.
Markus Stötzel, a German lawyer acting on the pair's behalf, said that the records clearly show the art dealers were the legitimate owners of the treasure in 1935, having bought it for 7.5 million Reichsmarks in 1929.
He says that Philipp and Stiebel felt forced to bring the action in the USA, feeling that German civil law didn't offer a sufficient chance of making restitution for Nazi crimes.
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