Remembering -- and Seeking Restitution

The Weekly Standard 5 May 2016
By Alice B. Lloyd

Senators aim to make it easier to regain art stolen by the Nazis.

Wednesday at sundown Yom HaShoah began. This Holocaust Day of Remembrance honors six million dead so that the world may never forget. "Hatred," a story written by Zuzana and Karel Tausinger in 1971 and published today in Mosaic, movingly illustrates the painful necessity of remembering. And earlier this week, Jeff Jacoby, writing in the Boston Globe, warned against the tragic inevitability of forgetting.

Early last month, four statesmen urged remembrance with new legislation: Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act (HEAR) to help ensure the rightful heirs of Nazi-looted artworks get their day in court.

Per an April 7th statement from Sen. Cornyn's office, "The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act would ensure that American law encourages the resolution of claims on Nazi-confiscated art on the merits, in a fair and just manner."

There is more at stake for these families than priceless works of art. In The Orpheus Clock, Simon Goodman chronicles the twenty-year search for his father's collection, which included sixty Old Masters, conducted decades after its forced sale to Hitler's agents. Last week on PBS Newshour, Goodman called the collection his "delayed inheritance" and his "family's heritage."

Senators behind HEAR say standard legal restrictions, such as statues of limitations, should not apply to when seeking justice for these crimes. Statutes of limitations, after all, make a mockery of the efforts to "never forget."

In the words of Senator Cruz:

The phrase 'never forget' is more than a slogan. '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.

Moreover, while this legislation is designed to help recover artwork that the Nazis stole during the Holocaust, it reminds us that the need to protect our cultural history in our own time is as urgent as ever.

Cruz went on to explain the urgency of this legislation in the context of a stand against terrorism today: "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."

From Senator Schumer:
71 years after the end of the holocaust and Hitler's terrifying regime, victims are still identifying possessions that have been missing all these years . . . 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.
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