(WASHINGTON, D.C.-June 27, 2018) Alexander Khochinsky, the son of a Polish Jew who fled her home just steps ahead of the German invasion in 1941, has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Poland for that country’s efforts to extradite him after he sought restitution of his mother’s property. Khochinsky, an art dealer, reached out to Poland about a painting, Girl with Dove by Antoine Pesne, that he had inherited from his parents and that looked similar to one that Poland was seeking, and asked to open a dialogue about what had happened to his mother’s home. In retaliation, Poland charged him with a crime and asked the United States to extradite him for prosecution. The U.S. District Court in Manhattan dismissed the request for extradition in 2015, but by then Khochinsky had suffered months of detention and the destruction of his business.
The Complaint can be downloaded here.
Sullivan & Worcester LLP partner Nicholas M. O’Donnell, representing Khochinsky, said, “Mr. Khochinsky made a good faith effort to initiate a dialogue about the property that his mother lost when Germany opened the Eastern Front of World War II in 1941. Poland retaliated by seeking to have him ripped from his adopted home in America to face a bad-faith prosecution. There is little question that Poland’s bad-faith response was part of its ongoing failure to come to terms with the fate of Poland’s Jews in the Holocaust and is emblematic of the anti-Semitism endemic in its government today.”
The lawsuit seeks declaratory relief and money damages for Poland’s retaliation against Khochinsky.
Khochinsky’s mother, Maria, was a Polish Jew born in 1922. Her family owned land and a house in the Polish town of Przemysl, which was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 as part of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Maria happened to be visiting her mother for the Sabbath just a few miles to the east when Germany initiated the Eastern Front of World War II on June 22, 1941. This small head start on the German invasion spared her from the Holocaust—more than 90% of Przemysl’s Jews were murdered by the time the city was retaken by the Red Army in 1944. She settled in the USSR, where Khochinsky grew up in Leningrad.
In 2010, Khochinsky learned that a painting he had inherited from his father seemed to match the description of a painting that had reportedly gone missing from a Polish museum during World War II. Khochinsky hoped that mutual desires for restitution would make Poland more willing to consider paying his family for the land seized in Przemysl. He contacted Poland about both his family’s land and the painting.
Poland reacted vengefully to Khochinsky’s request for compensation. It invented false charges that Khochinsky had knowingly received stolen goods, and it sought to have him extradited from his home in the United States. The extradition proceeding caused intense hardship for Khochinsky, his wife, and their children. The family’s travel documents were confiscated, and Khochinsky was placed on house arrest starting in January, 2013, which lasted for more than five months. This detention left him completely unable to attend to his business as an art dealer and thus left his family without an income.
This gambit failed and Poland’s request was dismissed. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that Khochinsky was not extraditable because there was not even probable cause to believe that he had committed the crime with which he was charged because his “behavior is inconsistent with someone who knows his property is sought by a foreign sovereign.”
The damage was done, however. For a professional whose business depended upon partners, clients, exhibitions, museum, and art fairs in Europe and Russia, this imprisonment was utterly devastating. Khochinsky’s livelihood was all but destroyed.
The Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues can be found here: http://www.holocausteraassets.eu/program/conference-proceedings/declarations/.
For further information please contact:
Nicholas M. O'Donnell
Attorney at Law
Sullivan & Worcester LLP
One Post Office Square
Boston, MA 02109
New York, NY 10019