Jewish dealers' heirs turn to U.S. to recover German art trove
By Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN (Reuters) - The heirs of Jewish art dealers who say their families were forced to sell the Nazis a trove of medieval church treasure worth some $250 million today have turned to a U.S. court to reclaim it, after failing in their attempts in Germany.
The collection, known as the Guelph Treasure, consists of 44 gold, jewel and pearl encrusted pieces which have belonged to the city of Berlin's art collection since their purchase in 1935, on the orders of leading Nazi Hermann Goering.
Germany says an expert committee established last year that the sale was not forced, following a 2008 claim by the heirs.
The reliquiaries dating from the 11th to 15th centuries were once owned by northern German aristocrats and kept in Brunswick cathedral. Today they are on show in Berlin's Bode Museum.
Lawyers for the heirs of the dealers, who bought the collection from the Duke of Brunswick in 1929, said on Tuesday they filed a civil suit with a district court in Washington DC, appealing to the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).
They say the court has jurisdiction because the FSIA covers violations of international law, such as forced property sales.
A Jewish refugee from Austria, Maria Altmann, used this law in 2000 to recover paintings by Gustav Klimt. She successfully fought the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was then awarded ownership by an Austrian court of arbitration.
"The fingerprints of Goering and Hitler are on this sale, the dealers had no chance," restitution lawyer Markus Stoetzel said. Continued...