Hungarian Court rules painting must be returned to American heiress

Associated Press 16 November 2005
PALMA BENCZENLEITNER; Associated Press Writer

A Hungarian court on Wednesday ruled that the state must return one of several valuable paintings taken during World War II from the family of a Jewish banker.

Martha Nierenberg, granddaughter and heiress of Baron Mor Lipot Herzog, sued for the return of 11 paintings - including works by El Greco and Anthony van Dyck - which were taken from the family during the Holocaust.

The paintings, once part of a much larger group known as the Herzog Collection, have an estimated value of 1.5 billion forints (US$7 million, [euro]6 million).

Nierenberg's lawyer said they planned to appeal the decision by the Budapest City Court, which ruled for the return of a work by El Greco, but rejected the request in the case of 10 other paintings.

"This case has been dragging on for long and it's certainly not an easy one," said lawyer Tamas Varga. The court did not provide explanations after the ruling.

Nierenberg has been fighting for the release of the paintings since 1999. In 2000, a Budapest court said the 10 paintings should be returned to her, but the decision was overturned in 2002 by Hungary's Supreme Court, which ordered new legal proceedings.

Most of the paintings in question are held by the Hungarian National Gallery and the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest.

Nierenberg, who fled Hungary in 1944 and lives in New York, was not present for the ruling.

Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust. About 100,000 live in Hungary now.
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