California legislators introduce bill to change laws around Nazi-looted art

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California legislators have introduced a bill aimed at giving Holocaust survivors and their heirs a greater chance to recover artifacts stolen or sold under duress during political persecution.

Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino), co-chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, who led the legislative effort, said Los Angeles Times It was inspired by a decision this January that determined that Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum could keep a Camille Pissarro painting taken from its Jewish owner by the Nazi Party.

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“I immediately understood that this was a unique opportunity to correct a historical injustice and ensure that something like this never happens again,” Gabriel said. “Respectfully, we think the 9th Circuit made a mistake, and this legislation will make that crystal clear.” He said the bill has bipartisan support.

Pissarro’s keenly followed case, titled Rue Saint Honoré, afternoon, rain effect ,Rue Saint Honoré, afternoon, rain effect) and a depiction of a rainy Paris street, have been circulating between California courts for nearly two decades, as Lily Cassirer Neubauer’s heirs have argued for its recovery.

Cassirer Neubauer was forced to sell the painting by the Nazi Party in 1939 for 900 Reichsmarks (about $360 today) in exchange for a visa to flee Germany. According to court documents, she never received payment. The painting was acquired by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in 1993 from the collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. Cassirer Neubauer’s heirs alleged in the initial complaint filed in 2005 that the museum acquired the work after discovering it had been sold under duress.

The legal saga was initiated by Cassirer Neubauer’s grandson, Claude Cassirer, who requested its return after learning of its location in the museum in 2001. When the museum was unwilling to release the painting, he filed a lawsuit. However, Cassirer died in 2010, leaving his claims to his son David, his daughter Ava’s estate, and the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

US District Judge John F. The verdict in a 2019 lawsuit by Walter found that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection had performed due diligence in acquiring the painting and was not aware of any Nazi involvement.

The January 2024 decision supported this sentiment. Circuit Judge Carlos B. stated that Spain’s intention to provide “certainty of title” to its art institutions outweighed California’s interests in discouraging looting and obtaining compensation for its residents. As a result, B wrote in the decision, Spanish law should be applied in the proceedings, because the museum had displayed the work for eight years in good faith before the 2005 complaint was filed.

The Cassirer family is appealing the 9th Circuit’s decision and applauds the proposed bill.

David said, “It is very important that our laws enable Holocaust victims and their heirs to recover this artwork that was stolen long ago.” “I am grateful.”

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