Home Arts Again, US court dismisses Nazi-era Guelph treasure art lawsuit

Again, US court dismisses Nazi-era Guelph treasure art lawsuit

by godlove4241
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The descendants of the former Jewish owners of the Guelph treasury suffered yet another defeat in their long legal battle with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation on Thursday, July 13, when the United States Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision denying them the right to have their claim adjudicated on the merits in a US court.

The decision follows a 2022 regional court decision and a 2021 Supreme Court decision on the disputed treasures, which are estimated by the claimants to be worth at least 200 million euros. Known in German as Welfenschatz, the Guelph hoard is now part of the collection of Berlin’s Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Applied Arts), which is managed by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

The foundation had argued that as a German state institution it was immune from US court rulings under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. “This decision confirms the view of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation that a claim for the return of the Guelph treasure should not be dealt with in a US court,” Hermann Parzinger, president of the foundation, said in a statement.

The Guelph hoard includes 42 pieces dating from the 11th to 15th centuries, mostly reliquaries and gem-encrusted crosses. The most valuable is a domed reliquary from the 12th century, shaped like a church and made of gold, copper and silver with figurines of biblical figures in walrus tusks.

The first home of the treasury was Brunswick Cathedral. It came into the possession of the House of Guelph, a royal dynasty, in 1671. The Guelph family’s rule over the principality of Braunschweig ended during the First World War, and in the 1920s its members tried to sell the treasure of Guelph. In 1929, they sold 82 objects to a consortium of Frankfurt art dealers – the plaintiffs’ ancestors. Over the next few years, 40 pieces were sold to museums and private collectors. In 1935 the Prussian state, with the support of Hermann Goering, paid 4.25 million Reichsmarks for the remaining treasury.

In 2014, the German Advisory Commission on Nazi Looted Art rejected the descendants’ claim, confirming the opinion of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation that the sale was not due to persecution and that the loss suffered by dealers when it was sold reflected the art market after the global economic crisis. Plaintiffs have argued that this view distorts the experience of Jews living in Germany after the Nazi takeover.

They expressed their disappointment with the new decision of the Court of Appeal.

“We continue to review the notice and consider our next steps,” said Nicholas O’Donnell of Sullivan & Worcester in Boston, which represents the plaintiffs. “Germany’s continued refusal to recognize the blatantly coercive sale involving Hermann Goering’s agents for what it was – a theft – stands in stark contrast to Germany’s obligations under the Washington Conference Principles on art confiscated by the Nazis.”

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