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Cruz, Senators Introduce Bill to Help Return Art Stolen by Nazis

Bipartisan HEAR Act takes a strong stand against the looting of antiquities

April 7, 2016

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was joined by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today to introduce the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act, which facilitates the return of artwork stolen by Nazis during the Holocaust to their rightful owners or heirs. The HEAR Act would ensure that claims in the United States to Nazi-confiscated art are resolved in a fair and just manner on the merits, and are not barred by state statutes of limitations and other procedural defenses. Doing so is consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy, as expressed in the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the Holocaust Victims Redress Act, and the 2009 Terezin Declaration. 

“The phrase ‘never forget’ is more than a slogan,” said Sen. Cruz. “‘Never forget’ means working to right all the terrible injustices of the Holocaust, even if many decades have passed. The HEAR Act will empower the victims of this horrific persecution, and help ensure that our legal system does everything it can to redress the widespread looting of cultural property by the Third Reich as part of its genocidal campaign against the Jewish people and other groups.

“Moreover, while this legislation is designed to help recover artwork that the Nazis stole during the Holocaust, it 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. I am proud to have worked closely with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to introduce this bill.”

Complete bill text can be viewed here and below are additional details about the bill:

● During the Third Reich, “the Nazis stole hundreds of thousands of artworks from museums and private collections throughout Europe, in what has been termed the ‘greatest displacement of art in human history.’”[1]

● When World War II ended, the United States and its allies attempted to return the stolen art to their countries of origin, but despite these efforts, many pieces were never reunited with their owners or heirs.[2]

● The American government has long worked with other nations to ensure that victims and their families are able to recover art tragically stolen by the Nazis.

● The HEAR Act would ensure that claims to Nazi-confiscated art are not unfairly barred by statutes of limitations and other similar procedural defenses but are instead resolved on their merits.

● To do this, the bill creates a six-year statute of limitations for claims to recover art that was unlawfully lost due to theft, seizure, forced sale, sale under duress, or the like because of racial, ethnic, or religious persecution by the Nazis or their allies during the period from January 1, 1933, to December 31, 1945.

● The limitations period commences upon “actual discovery” of (1) the identity and location of the art that was unlawfully lost, and (2) information or facts sufficient to indicate that the claimant has a possessory interest in the art.

● The six-year limitations period under this bill applies to any claim that (1) is pending on the date of enactment, including any claim that was dismissed before enactment based on a time-based procedural defense but is on appeal, or (2) is filed after enactment but on or before December 31, 2026. Claims filed after that date will not have the benefit of the HEAR Act limitations period.

● The HEAR Act preempts any other applicable federal or state statutes of limitations.

[1] Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, 592 F.3d 954, 957 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Michael J. Bazyler, Holocaust Justice: The Battle for Restitution in America’s Courts 202 (NYU Press 2003)).

[2] See id. at 957-58.

Image: German loot stored in church at Ellingen, Germany found by troops of the U.S. Third Army. 4/24/45. RG 111-SC-204899, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration 

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