Battles over seized European artwork reflect property rights attitudes

The Holocaust should serve as a reminder of the dangers in embracing public policy which creates laws that segregate people whether based on race, ethnicity, gender, age or anything else for specialized treatment under the law.  Such policies created an environment in which the asset looting that occurred was hardly the worst of atrocities committed, but it certainly was a by-product that some continue working today to rectify.

In the last weeks, we’ve seen numerous articles reporting on efforts of Holocaust victims’ heirs to recover artwork looted by the German and other governments as well as their agents.  A recent op-ed by Jennifer Kreder, associate dean of Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, said this of our own government’s attitude toward these efforts:

Inexplicably, the Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court to deny a rehearing of Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California was powerless to extend the statute of limitations for claims involving Nazi-looted art. The Supreme Court in June did as it was asked and declined to take the case.

Kreder ends her piece with “The U.S. Supreme Court should not have destroyed California’s attempt at fundamental fairness for Holocaust survivors by discouraging further claims. Hope is dwindling for the power of state law to act as the cornerstone of restitution in this country.”

It’s disappointing, but not surprising that our own government would have so little regard for property rights in these particularly horrific circumstances.  Unfortunately, it seems to follow the entitlement mentality promoted both by government and too much of our society that “getting what someone else has got” is perfectly acceptable.

The right to own property free from fear of government or other confiscation is a fundamental principal on which this country was founded.  Eastern Europe of the 30s and 40s showed what happens when those and other natural rights are ignored.

It will be interesting to see how these cases are treated as they move through the courts.  We hope they have better experiences than many Americans and their property are faring in even the most basic of probate actions.

Additional articles on looted artwork:

Judge limits suit on Hungarian looted art

Legal battles over seized artwork
Disputes about ownership have brought huge settlements, returns of stolen pieces

Lake Forest family’s Renoir painting object of court fight about who is rightful owner
Steel magnate Newton Korhumel bought piece in 1956, but heirs of German Jew say he was unjustly forced to sell it to escape Nazi persecution