During the Holocaust, the Nazi not only unlawfully detained Jews in addition to many other minorities, but they also obliterated their communities and confiscated their personal belongings.
One federal judge in Los Angeles refused to command the return of an Impressionist painting to the relatives of a Jewish woman who was forced to sell the work for $360 to a Nazi art appraiser in 1939, according to the NY Times.
Lilly Cassirer sued the museum and Spain to have the painting returned to her family or to be awarded damages, but judge John Walter said Spanish law applied to this case and that they did not need to return the painting. He emphasized that the museum obtained the painting legally.
The managing director of the foundation that runs the museum, Evelio Acevedo Carrero, said he would meet Cassirer halfway and place some sort of moral recognition of the paintings origins, explaining that it was a part of the items taken from Jews in World War II.
Cassirer’s lawyers shot back, stating that world governments have demanded the return of items taken by the Nazis and they should be no different.
“Museums and governments around the world recognize the need to return Nazi-looted art to its rightful owners,” said Laura Brill, a lawyer for the Cassirer family. “Here, it is undisputed that the Pissarro was owned by the Cassirer family until it was stolen by the Nazis in 1939.”
However, Acevedo, noted that Cassirer had previously received reimbursement from the German government for the piece of art and therefore the museum was not obligated to return the painting.
“Every case is its own case and not all the cases related to Nazism have gone the same way,” Mr. Acevedo said. “In this case, it’s clear that Lilly Cassirer was compensated by the German State.”
The painting was acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1976 and has been displayed in Madrid since the museum opened in late 1992. The managing director says it is a crucial piece of the museum’s collection and rightfully belongs to them.
Cassirer intends to file an appeal, but the museum’s lawyer Thaddeus Stauber says the fight is over. The U.S. has shown that they take other country’s laws into consideration, as well as the history of the painting’s journey. “One country can’t decide to be the world court,” Stauber said.
Acevedo said that it was “very satisfying” to have an American court recognize the ownership rights of a Spanish museum. “The judge makes it very clear that the foundation is the legitimate owner,” he said.