Bavaria proposes law to partially lift statute of limitation - WJC: 'Insufficient'

WJC 8 January 2014

The government of Bavaria, one of the 16 German states, announced on Tuesday that it would introduce a bill in the upper house of the German legislature aimed at facilitating the restitution of Nazi-looted art. If adopted, the new legislation would eliminate a 30-year statute of limitations in the German Civil Code applied to stolen property, provided it can be proved that the current holder acted in bad faith. World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder welcomed the Bavarian initiative as a “step in the right direction”, but called it “insufficient to deal with the problem of Nazi-looted art in Germany.”

"This [bill] would also apply to cases of so-called 'degenerate art', or Nazi-looted art, when works were taken for example from Jewish owners in the context of their oppression or expulsion by the Nazi reign of terror," Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback said. "The condition is that the current holder of the work acted in bad faith, knowing exactly the origin of the item or having clear evidence for it at the time he acquired it."

Bausback said the bill would go before the Bundesrat on 14 February with the aim of helping "victims of the Nazis' criminal cultural policies and their families".

News in November that a hoard of hundreds of artworks believed looted by the Nazis or seized under a Third Reich law banning avant-garde "degenerate" art had been found in a Munich flat prompted international calls for an overhaul of German restitution laws including a scrapping of the statute of limitations. The eccentric hermit in possession of the works, Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, is the son of a powerful Nazi-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, who acquired many of the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s. The collection includes works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Dix, Munch and Toulouse-Lautrec. Gurlitt has told German media that he has no intention of voluntarily returning the paintings and sketches to their former owners.

WJC: 'Not enough'

Ronald S. Lauder expressed doubt that the Bavarian bill, if implemented, would in itself be an adequate instrument to resolve all questions surrounding the Gurlitt trove and other Nazi-looted art still in private hands. He also urged the federal government and the 16 German states (Länder) to fully implement the 1998 Washington Principles and to take further steps to address the matter, notably that of looted art in public museums and art galleries.
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