Holocaust lawyer to sue Hungary over stolen art

Reuters 11 May 2005
David Chance

BUDAPEST - Prominent U.S. Holocaust claims lawyer Ed Fagan is to file a "multi-billion" dollar lawsuit against Hungary, alleging it wrongly kept artworks stolen by the Nazis and conspired to prevent them being returned.

Fagan told Reuters he would file suit in a New York district court on Thursday which would also seek to force the Hungarian government to disclose a memo of a meeting between German and Hungarian officials in the 1960s, in which he alleges the two countries conspired to prevent art being returned.

"We are going to court. The history of the Hungarians in relation to these things is not so good," Fagan told Reuters by telephone from Vienna.

Fagan shot to fame in the late 1990s when he won more than a billion euros from Swiss banks for the families of Holocaust victims.

His new suit names Hungary, the Hungarian National Gallery, the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest and the Ministry of Culture.

It will be filed on behalf of the Association of Holocaust Victims for Restitution of Artwork and Masterpieces (AHVRAM) over paintings that were owned by Baron Ferenc Hatvany.

The collection, the largest and most valuable in private hands in pre-war Hungary, included paintings by El Greco, Delacroix and Ingres.

Hatvany, a Jew, was sent to a labor camp by the Nazis in 1944, and 160-165 of his paintings were looted from Hungarian banks. He died in Lausanne in 1958.

Fagan said that if the suit was successful and descendants of Hatvany could not be found, the proceeds from the sale of their paintings would be given to people who had claims relating to other Nazi confiscations.

One of Hatvany's El Greco paintings, "Mount Sinai," was at the center of a lawsuit that forced the National Gallery in London to withdraw it from an exhibition in 2004 for fear it could be seized. It was bought by a museum in Crete in 1998.

Fagan said there were 20 paintings from Hatvany's collection on display in the Hungarian National Gallery.

The gallery said it had no knowledge of the litigation to be launched on Thursday, and that the Hungarian state was the owner of the paintings in question. No one from the Ministry of Culture was immediately available for comment.
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