Congress Moves to Spur Return of Artwork Stolen By Nazis

New bill paves way for justice decades after Holocaust

April 8, 2016

Congress is paving the way for Holocaust survivors to reclaim artwork stolen by the Nazis during World War II, according to new legislation filed by a bipartisan group of senators.

The new bill would facilitate the return of these looted artworks by permitting Holocaust survivors to have their cases heard before courts in an expedited manner.

The legislation, titled the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, or HEAR Act, seeks to build upon current efforts by the U.S. government to pave the way for survivors to have their claims reviewed and ruled upon.

The latest legislation would establish a clear nationwide time frame by which these must be heard, according to a copy of the bill, which is being spearheaded by Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Richard Blumenthal (D, Conn.).

"The phrase ‘never forget’ is more than a slogan," Cruz said in a statement. "‘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."

Cruz explained that the legislation also encourages the United States to focus on current cultural crimes being committed by terror groups such as ISIS, which has been destroying cultural sites and other historical artifacts as it seizes territory across the Middle East.

"It reminds us that the need to protect our cultural history in our own time is as urgent as ever," Cruz said. "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."

Schumer also emphasized the need to ensure that Holocaust victims receive just restitution more than 70 years after the Nazi war effort ended.

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 in a statement. "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."

Artworks stolen by the Nazi regime continue to be held in private collections, museums, and by governments across Europe. Many Holocaust survivors have experienced protracted legal battles to recover these works.

Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Commission for Art Recovery and the president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said in a statement that the new legislation will pave the way for families to finally receive justice.

"The HEAR act will enable Holocaust survivors and their families to fairly pursue claims for property that was stolen from them during the Holocaust," Lauder said. "I’m gratified these senators have introduced this historic and bipartisan legislation and urge a vote on this bill without delay."