Guelph Treasure

As if it weren’t bogged down by enough American concerns, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding an art collection that was stolen from a group of Jewish art collectors in 1935.

The collection, known as the “Guelph Treasure” features 82 pieces of medieval ecclesiastical art. It is valued at $250 million.

A group of Jewish art dealers purchased the collection from the Duke of Brunswick in 1929. Less than 10 years later, they sold the collection to Hermann Göring (one of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party), who presented it as a gift to Adolf Hitler.

Plaintiff and heir Jed Lieber claims his grandfather was forced to sell the collection to Göring at a fraction of its true value. He insists the sale is invalid and that the collection (or equivalent compensation) rightly belongs to him.

“This was purchased by Hermann Göring, perhaps one of the most notorious art thieves of all time for his pal, Adolf Hitler, the monster who killed 6 million people,” argues Lieber.

Lieber and other heirs first brought the case in Germany in 2008, only to be told 8 years later that the Guelph Treasure did not meet the criteria defining a “forced sale due to Nazi persecution.”

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees the museum where the Guelph Treasure is currently on display, agrees the sale was valid because the collectors were compensated fairly. Göring paid 4.25 million Reichsmarks for the collection, a sum that experts consider fair.

Years later, Lieber brought the case to the United States and used the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to sue Germany and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation for compensation of property taken from the dealers as “rights in property taken in violation of international law.”

Germany responded by declaring the Guelph Treasure a “national cultural treasure,” meaning it can never leave the country. Germany then told Lieber that FSIA did not apply in this case because the collection had never crossed international borders.

When the DC Circuit Court denied Germany’s motion to dismiss the case, Germany asked the Supreme Court to intervene. They agreed.

In a unanimous decision reached Wednesday, the US Supreme Court ruled that Lieber lacked standing to sue Germany using FSIA because the law’s provision affecting “rights in property taken” is limited to actions between foreign states and thus does not apply to actions between individuals or between an individual and a state.

The court’s decision was based on the “law of property,” not “the law of genocide,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. Under international law, the removal of property is unlawful only when the seizure deprives a foreigner of property, he explained.

From here, the case will return to lower courts to determine whether the Nazi’s horrific treatment of Jews makes Lieber’s case an exception to the rule. It is implied that Lieber may have other options to earn compensation from the German government.

14 thoughts on “Supreme Court Rules on Stolen Nazi Art Collection”
  1. Lieber is just a greedy bastard that doesn’t deserve to be wasting the court’s time with his frivolous law suits.

  2. No, I suspect that Lieber legitimately believes that his forebears were pressured into selling the artwork to Goring and not compensated fairly. One thing I note that is missing from the story is the sum that was paid by the original art dealers to the Duke of Brunswick. If that sum is more than what Goring paid them, there is a case and it should be heard by someone other than Chief Justice John Roberts who is something of a coward.

  3. I’ll happily pay his his lost what: 5 bucks! …Anything more- he needs to go after the nazi that owes him… SEEMS he got a good amount of money, already (his family got- from selling of what was/is- arguable junk!)- JUNK BEING_ has no value, outside of person interested in it. …I like – and have spent too much on sport cards- ALL JUNK! …just because it has MORE value today, doesn’t make it a not junk argument; it’s irrelevant stuff from a day- when it was also STILL considered junk! ….Now, if it were his clothes or house- or land; myabe he’d have some kind of argument!

  4. Art vs genocide which would you choose return the artwork that was sold under duress. and then to add insult to injury gassed.

  5. RETURN THE STOLEN ARTWORK GERMANY
    AS IF MURDERING THE TRUE OWNERS OF THIS ARTWORK WASN’T BAD ENOUGH TO DENY THE SURVIVORS THE RIGHT TO RETRIEVE THE ART IS OUTRAGEOUS

  6. Interesting that our Supreme Court has time for this but not about our election issues.

  7. The Jewish people were stripped of all human rights and property rights in German Courts during the Rise of the Nazi Regime. Any properties, including ART taken from Jewish individuals to Jewish Art Collectors were stolen or coerced away from the true owner during the nazification of Germany, Poland, Austria, Et Al. This property by all moral, ethical and man made laws demand the Art be return to the heirs of the original owner. WTF Judge Roberts? Your fascist slip is showing again?

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