Art Law Report

U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Germany’s Appeal to Keep the Guelph Treasure, Taken by Nazi Agents in 1935

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on July 2, 2020 at 12:15 PM


(WASHINGTON-July 2, 2020) The United States Supreme Court today agreed to hear the appeal by Germany and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) seeking to dismiss the restitution claim by the heirs to the so-called Guelph Treasure (known in German as the Welfenschatz). The claims arise out of the forced transfer in 1935 of the Guelph Treasure by a consortium of Jewish art dealers to agents of Hermann Goering, who personally presented it as a gift to Hitler. In 2018, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that U.S. courts have jurisdiction over the claim under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA). That appellate court had rejected the Defendants’ arguments that U.S. courts lack jurisdiction, and that Germany’s treatment of its Jews in the 1930s should be immune from judicial scrutiny.

Sullivan partner Nicholas M. O’Donnell said, “we are grateful for the opportunity to address the Supreme Court on these important questions about holding Germany accountable for its Nazi-looted art. A 1935 transfer from German Jews to notorious art looter and war criminal Hermann Goering is the quintessential crime against international law, regardless of Germany’s Holocaust distortion in defending this case. Germany seeks to eliminate recourse for Nazi-looted art and the Court will have the chance to answer this question of critical importance for Holocaust victims.” O’Donnell added, “this is also an opportunity to rebuke the Department of Justice and State Department, who turned their back on decades of U.S. policy by siding with Germany’s effort to keep Nazi-looted art.”

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Topics: United States Supreme Court, Guelph Treasure, Nazi-looted art, Department of Justice, SPK, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Hermann Goering, NS Raubkunst, Gerald Stiebel, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Federal Republic of Germany, Alan Philipp, Welfenschatz, State Department, Paul Körner, Jed Leiber

Guelph Treasure Heirs Respond to U.S. Brief that Argued Nazi Art Theft Was a Domestic Affair

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 8, 2020 at 4:37 PM

On behalf of my clients seeking restitution of the Guelph Treasure, or Welfenschatz, we filed today our supplemental brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the Brief of the United States as Amicus Curiae that the Solicitor General’s office submitted on May 26, 2020. You can read today’s brief here, and read more about the particular problems with the Solicitor General’s filing here, most notably the contention that the Nazis’ property crimes against German Jews should be considered a “domestic” issue that doesn’t implicate international law under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). It was particularly distressing that the brief was signed not only by the U.S. Department of Justice, but also the State Department.

The filing follows an increasing pattern of disregard for bipartisan Congressional action, in this case the 2016 Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act. Similarly, the 2017 Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Act that was enacted specifically to counter Poland’s and others’ hostility to restitution for Holocaust era assets has been ignored. The JUST Act required that the State Department issue a report on other countries’ restitution progress no later that November 9, 2019, yet no report has been issued. The State Department has a dedicated page on the JUST Act...which simply lists the law (Poland's embassy has its own rather self-serving version too). Something very curious is going on with restitution at the State Department, all the more heartbreaking given the 80 years of leadership on the topic by the United States.

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Topics: Guelph Treasure, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Supreme Court, SPK, Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, FSIA, Welfenschatz, State Department, HEAR Act, JUST Act, solicitor general

Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act and the Immunity from Seizure Act—Status Quo Is Often Misunderstood

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on June 15, 2015 at 6:04 AM

There has been additional commentary in the last week on the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarification Act, including this piece at Hyperallergic in which I’m quoted. The piece reminds me to revisit a confusing subject latent in the whole discussion: immunity from suit versus immunity from seizure. Despite what one frequently reads, the current bill would have no effect at all on immunity from seizure, which seems to be most people’s concern. It would affect only a small category of exceptions for immunity from suit, that is, who can be sued, not what can be loaned into the United States.

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Topics: Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Clarifica, Amsterdam, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, U.S. Federal Republic of Germany, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, FSIA, Restitution, Kingdom of Spain, IFSA, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Immunity from Seizure Act, Museums, 28 U.S.C. § 1605, Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity, State Department

Immunity from Seizure in Focus—Loans from Cuba for Exhibitions on Hold

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 5, 2015 at 6:39 AM

A recent story in The Art Newspaper spotlights a number of lingering issues related to stolen art, the power of U.S. courts to seize property to satisfy liability, and the role of the Immunity from Seizure Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2459 (IFSA). As we discussed recently, the prospect of a material change in U.S.-Cuba relations, which as a commercial matter haven’t existed for more than 50 years, has broad implications for the art market. Just as importantly, there are many, many unanswered questions about the fate of property in Cuba that changed hands or was nationalized as part of the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s and onward. Simply put, there are thousands of claims worth billions of dollars for all sorts of property that exiles left behind or had taken from them. While it is still a long way off, one impact of potentially normalized relations is the prospect of sorting through those claims.

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Topics: Legislation, Malevich, Atlanta, Boston College Law School, The Art Newspaper, Immunity from Seizure, Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Wifredo Lam: Imagining New Worlds, 22 U.S.C. § 2459, City of Amsterdam, High Museum, McMullen Museum at Boston College, IFSA, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Portrait of Wally, Immunity from Seizure Act, Museums, Chabad, Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity, State Department, Cuba

Changes in U.S. Law Regarding Cuba Will Affect the Arts

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on December 19, 2014 at 5:39 AM

This week’s biggest news story (apart from Above the Law’s Awesome Law Blogs of 2014) is the historic reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba after more than fifty years. Like a coda to the end of the Cold War, we all found ourselves watching the President of the United States describing how there will once again be a U.S. embassy in Cuba. For those of us who have not been alive as long as diplomatic ties have been severed and the Castro regime has been in place, it was a remarkable sight indeed.

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Topics: Castro, Sudan, Gabriela Rangel, Auctions, U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, President of the United States, OFAC, Above the Law, Congress, Art Basel Miami Beach, North Korea, economic embargo of Cuba, Galleries, Wall Street Journal, President Obama, Art Fairs, State Sponsor of Terrorism List, Cuban peso, the Americas Society, 12 Awesome Law Blogs of 2014, Iran, ArtNet, Syria, Foreign Affairs, Art Law Report, State Department, Cuba, Cold War

Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act: House Votes to Amend FSIA to Exclude Artwork Loan as Basis for Jurisdiction

Posted by Nicholas O'Donnell on March 22, 2012 at 9:15 AM

The House of Representatives approved the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act on March 19, 2012, to remove the display of a work of art in the United States as basis to sue a foreign sovereign here. The law touches on important distinctions between immunity from suit—when a party cannot be sued at all—from immunity from seizure—when a particular object or asset cannot be seized.

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Topics: Legislation, 22 USC 2459, Immunity from Seizure, FSIA, Restitution, Senate Bill 2212, World War II, Foreign Sovereign Immunities, Portrait of Waly, House of Representatives, Immunity from Suit, Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity, State Department

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The Art Law Report provides timely updates and commentary on legal issues in the museum and visual arts communities. It is authored by Nicholas M. O'Donnell, partner in our Art & Museum Law Practice.

The material on this site is for general information only and is not legal advice. No liability is accepted for any loss or damage which may result from reliance on it. Always consult a qualified lawyer about a specific legal problem.

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