The Senate unanimously passed the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, or HEAR Act, on Friday. The House passed the same bill on Dec. 7. It must still be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The bill would extend the statute of limitations for the stolen artwork to six years from the date that the art in question is identified and located, and from when the claimant has shown evidence of possession of the art.
In some previous cases, defendants were able to avoid restitution because states had statutes of limitations as short as three years.
The HEAR Act was introduced in the Senate in April by Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, along with Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
“Today, we delivered a long-overdue victory for the families of Holocaust victims,” Cruz said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation rights a terrible injustice and sends a clear signal that America will continue to root out every noxious vestige of the Nazi regime. I’m proud to have worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to empower the victims of the horrific atrocities that took place over 70 years ago and will continue to fight to bring peace and justice to these families.”
“Artwork lost during the Holocaust is not just property – to many victims and their families it is a reminder of the vanished world of their families,” Cornyn said.
“Thanks to the Senate’s approval of the HEAR Act, victims of the Holocaust and their families will finally have their day in court to claim what is rightfully theirs,” said Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Commission for Art Recovery and president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. “This important legislation will allow those seeking to recover art and other heritage stolen by the Nazis a fair opportunity to have their cases judged on the facts, rather than be undercut by legal technicalities.
In June, testimony was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittees on the importance of the act. Among those testifying was British actress Helen Mirren, who said that “restoring physical parts of lost heritage to Holocaust victims and their families is a moral imperative.”
Mirren said she became steeped in the issue while playing Maria Altmann in the 2015 film “Woman of Gold.” Altmann battled the Austrian government for years until 2004, when she recovered works stolen from her family by the Nazis.
During World War II, the Nazis stole valuable belongings, including art, from Jewish families. Much of the looted property was not returned after the war, and heirs of the families have faced lengthy legal battles to recover their family belongings.