PHOTO: U.S. soldiers recover looted paintings from a German castle during World War II. Photo Courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
By Michael V. Cusenza
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators last Friday introduced a bill to help facilitate the return of artwork stolen by Nazis during the Holocaust to their rightful owners or heirs.
The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, according to U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would ensure that American law encourages the resolution of claims on Nazi-confiscated art on the merits, in a fair and just manner.
Doing so is consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy, the elected officials noted, as demonstrated in the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the 2009 Terezin Declaration.
According to the text of the bill, the United States 18 years ago convened a conference with 44 nations in Washington, D.C., known as the Washington Conference, which produced Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. One of the principles is that “steps should be taken expeditiously to achieve a just and fair solution” to claims involving such art that has not been restituted if the owners or their heirs can be identified.
“Seventy-one years after the end of the Holocaust and Hitler’s terrifying regime, victims are still identifying possessions that have been missing all these years,” Schumer said. “When a family discovers a piece of art that was stolen by the Nazis, they deserve their day in court. This legislation helps provide these families their day in court, ensuring that the heirs of Holocaust victims are given the opportunity to bring their art back home.”
Cruz, who is campaigning for president, said that the bill also “reminds us that the need to protect our cultural history in our own time is as urgent as ever. Terrorist groups from the Taliban to ISIS, seeking nothing less than the destruction of Western civilization, long to walk in the footsteps of their genocidal, thieving forebears. The HEAR Act will make it clear that the United States takes a strong stand against the looting and trafficking of antiquities and other artifacts.”
The text of the HEAR Act states that it is estimated that the Nazis confiscated or otherwise misappropriated as many as 650,000 works of art throughout Europe as part of their genocidal campaign against the Jewish people and other persecuted groups. This has been described as the “greatest displacement of art in human history.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.