As part of its long-standing efforts on behalf of victims of Nazi persecution, Osen LLC is involved in the recovery of looted art and cultural property in Europe. The Firm has successfully resolved recovery claims on behalf of the heirs of Holocaust victims and has recovered for our clients many lost and stolen works of art and cultural artifacts. Osen LLC has successfully handled a number of major cases in this area, including the much publicized efforts of the son of Hans Sachs to recover one of the most famous and prestigious poster collections ever assembled, which had been confiscated by the Gestapo in 1938. That case established ground-breaking precedent in Germany’s highest court.
During World War II, the German and Russian armies looted art and cultural property across Europe. Even prior to the war, the Nazi regime oversaw the systematic transfer and sale of artwork and other collectibles sold by Germany's Jewish citizens under duress. In 1998 the Washington Conference on Holocaust Looted Assets confirmed the commitment of many of the world's governments to achieve a just and fair solution for the heirs of pre-war owners of art that was confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted. This commitment is embodied in a document commonly known as the “Washington Principles.”
State-owned museums also agreed to attempt to identify artworks with a Nazi era provenance. While the German government has called on its state-owned museums to check their collections in accordance with the Washington Principles, it has done little to help fund such research. Museums themselves have also been reluctant to hand over artwork in their collections to descendants of Nazi victims. This reticence to comply with the Washington Principles is often justified by claims that heirs to looted art often resell the artworks at auction and are not interested in the art itself. According to Germany’s weekly newspaper, Die Zeit, the director of Dresden’s State Art Collection complained in 2006 that “lost art is currently being sought out and . . . it’s only about speculation and money.” This highlights a growing trend of governments and museums paying lip service to art restitution while opposing the return of actual works of art to the heirs of Nazism’s victims.
The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee issued an assessment in April 2003 that remains largely true to this day:
The legal situation in this area is at present entirely unclear, so that museums, art dealers, victims and heirs have been unable to recover looted goods or fill the gap in provenance of art ownership. Claimants face a bewildering array of legal problems, many driven by the sheer accident of where looted property happens to be found. Access to data varies from nation to nation, as do the legal standards regarding such fundamental issues as determining the applicable law, proving ownership, assessing when a claim must be brought and the effect of intervening transfers to allegedly innocent transferees.
Osen LLC strives to assist the many former owners of looted art who are forced to navigate the “bewildering array of legal problems” intrinsic to this complex issue.