The Return of Nazi-looted Art

Choice of Law Issues
  • Geri J. Yonover


In the late 1990s extraordinary attention, too long delayed, has been given to the return to Holocaust survivors and/or their descendants of art works that were taken from them during the Holocaust years. Other owners, under duress from Nazi persecution, simply fled and were unable to bring along their art collections. While sporadic attempts were made in the years following World War II to regain ownership of some of this art,1 with varying results, these efforts took place in relative isolation. Today, in contrast, a week seldom passes when a newspaper somewhere in the world does not report stories of families who seek to recover Nazi-looted art or who seek to be compensated by various governments such as Switzerland, Germany and Austria for Holocaust-related injuries2.


Supra Note Holocaust Survivor Original Owner Holocaust Denial Rightful Owner 
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  1. 2.
    See ‘Austria to return art taken by Nazis’, Chicago Tribune, 12 February 1999 at 18, § 1; Regina Hackett, ‘Sam sues gallery in dispute over Matisse work’, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 26 August 1998 at El; Jeffrey Kastner, ‘Schiele case has wide-ranging impact’, Artnews, 1 March 1998 at 61. Several authors have described meticulously ‘the greatest displacement of art in history’ that occurred during the Nazi era. See Lawrence M. Kaye, ‘Looted Art: What can and should be done’, 20 Cardozo Law Review. 657 (1998), citing Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa (New York: Vintage Books 1995).Google Scholar
  2. See also Hector Feliciano, The Lost Museum, trans. Hector Feliciano and Tim Brent (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1997); another analysis of the subject scheduled for April 2000 publication is: Peter Harclerode and Brendan Pittaway, The Lost Masters, the Looting of Europe’s Treasurehouses (London: Victor Gollancz, forthcoming). For claims against Swiss and Austrian banks, see, e.g., Henry Weinstein, ‘Simon Wiesenthal to Head Holocaust Reparations Panel Victims: Famed Nazi hunter is appointed to help oversee distribution of $40 million settlement stemming from claims against two Austrian banks’, Los Angeles Times, 5 August 1999, at A15; Elise Labott, ‘German companies oppose Nazi slaves’ compensation suit’, Agence France-Presse, 12 July 1999 (1999 WL 2637079); Barry Meier, ‘Swiss banks and victims of the Nazis nearing pact’, New York Times Abstracts, 23 January 1999, at A6.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    John Ruskin, The States of Venice (New York: Peter Fenelon Collier & Son, 1900), 180.Google Scholar
  4. 22.
    See John Henry Merryman and Albert E. Elsen, Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts 26 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2nd edn., 1987).Google Scholar
  5. 40.
    See 15 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller and Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure Jurisdiction ch. 8 §3827 (Minnesota: West Publishing, 2nd ed, 1986); 19 ‘Wright, Miller and Cooper’, Federal Practice & Procedure Jurisdiction ch. 14, § 4506 (Minnesota: West Publishing, 2nd ed., 1996).Google Scholar
  6. 74.
    Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces (New York: Knopf, 1997), quoted in W.S. Di Piero, ‘Fossil Remains’, New York Times Book Review, 20 April 1997, at 10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geri J. Yonover

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