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'Restitution von Kunstwerken aus jüdischem Besitz'

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Title

Restitution von Kunstwerken aus jüdischem Besitz

Author

Sabine Rudolph

Date

August 2007

Source

This book, whose English title is The Restitution of Works of Art Confiscated from Jewish Collections, explores the legal issues affecting the restitution of such works of art in Germany.

A short while ago the media paid particular attention to the restitution by the State of Berlin of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Berlin Street Scene to the heirs of Alfred Hess, a Jewish shoe factory owner. The painting had been expropriated from his collection during the Nazi era. 
 
The State of Berlin was violently attacked for restituting the painting, although it did so in accordance with the Joint Declaration of the Federal Government, the Laender (Federal States) and the National Associations of Local Authorities. In the Joint Declaration (1999) these bodies committed to return Nazi-confiscated art, particularly that from Jewish ownership, to the original owner or his/her heirs.  The basis on which the return of the Kirchner was decided was, however, the very reason for the attack made upon the State of Berlin. The Joint Declaration constitutes merely a “political declaration of intent as a self-imposed moral obligation” and is without legally binding effect.  It seems the restitution would certainly have been accepted if it had been made as part of a requirement of a legal regulation, for example, § 985, German Civil Code (BGB). This provision enables a claim by an owner whereby he may demand restitution of an asset belonging to him from the person who illegitimately possesses such an asset.
 
The question whether a Jewish collector or his/her heirs may base their demand for restitution on § 985, BGB is the central issue explored in this book. In examining this question, numerous other problems are discussed. These include whether the Jewish collector lost his/her ownership of the artwork as a result of a sale or a seizure by the German Reich.  Special attention is given to the Allied restitution laws, in particular to their so-called “confiscation presumption”. Also examined in the book is whether loss of ownership occurred as the result of a bona fide acquisition by a third party to whom the first purchaser or the Reich had resold the artwork. Finally, the book clarifies whether the elapsed time of more than a half century serves to eliminate a restitution claim under § 985, BGB or prevents its enforceability.

The book was published by de Gruyter in August, ISBN 978-3-89949-436-5.
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