Published On: Tue, Feb 24th, 2015

Descendants of Jewish Art Dealers Want Germany to Return Collection Stoled by the Nazis

"Any transaction in 1935 where the sellers on one side were Jews and the buyer on the the other side was the Nazi state itself is by definition a void transaction, " said the attorney for the plaintiffs

A sirens aquamanile and a lion aquamanile from the Guelph Treasure (Alamy)

Descendants of Jewish art dealers have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. suing Germany for a treasure that they said their ancestors sold to the Nazis under threat, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.

The collection, called the Guelph or the Welfenschatz treasure, is worth an estimated $226 million and contains rare works from the Middle Ages that were originally collected in the Braunschweig Cathedral. Some pieces are more than 800 years old. Nicholas O’Donnell, an attorney for those filing the suit told the AP, “Any transaction in 1935 where the sellers on one side were Jews and the buyer on the the other side was the Nazi state itself is by definition a void transaction.”

The collectors originally bought the collection from the Braunschweig Duke, but were unable to find buyers during the Depression. When Prussia was governed by leading Nazi Herman Goering, the collection was sold for much less than its value, the plaintiffs say, because of terror of the Nazi regime. The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation argues that the items were not sold under duress and the collection was not even in Germany at the time, but in Amsterdam, which wasn’t invaded until 1940.

The plaintiffs, Alan Phillip from London and Gerald Stiebel from New Mexico, are filing the suit in a U.S. Federal Court because, based on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the U.S. courts are reliable in dealing with ownership issues. A German government commission last year said the works of art should stay in German and that there was no evidence they were sold due to persecution.

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