The thirteen years between 1932 and 1945 were not Germany’s finest. We all know what happened and there is no need to go into a detailed discussion about that. Part of the injustices done during this time include the forced purchases of priceless artwork for pittances by the Nazi State. Since 1948, the Federal Republic has done everything in its power to try to rectify these injustices. This includes making legal exemptions for the rightful owners and their heirs in terms of furnishing evidence that said treasures were taken using illegitimate means as there isn’t always much evidence left even in the most egregious of instances. Compare this to the Swiss who used their banking secrecy as a double-edged blade. Those who could furnish all other evidence that bank accounts were rightfully theirs, including records of death of the original holders, still could not access their inheritances because they did not have the right numbers.
At the same time, there has also been abuse of Germany’s policies by “heirs” who seek not a redress of injustice, but the acquisition of priceless pieces of art in order to enrich themselves. On occasion there has been some success in doing this, because of the delicate nature of these cases courts generally rule in favour of the heirs. At the same time, however, Germany is a country under the rule law and not whim or sentimentality alone. An infamously difficult case has surrounded the Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure. A merry band of so-called heirs has fought to gain control over one of Germany’s greatest collections of religious art which was obtained by Prussia in 1935. The catch is that not all the owners were in Germany at the time and the collection itself was in the Netherlands which was not put under Nazi tyranny until 1940 — 5 years after the sale. German courts have ruled against the litigants based on this and the Berlin government has declared the collection a national cultural treasure. Not a single piece is allowed to leave Germany without the explicit permission of the federal minister of culture. Since the 1960s this collection has been on display in Berlin.
In most cases, the decision of the highest relevant court in the land would settle matters. In the case of Germany, the court system is among the best in the world and the country’s high courts have shown no reserve in over-turning unfair laws and putting politicians in their places. Naturally, they run to the Americans and demand that the Americans rule differently. Having dealt with the American legal system and being aware of the incompetence of America’s courts, one suspects that a manipulated outcome is desired which would put Germany on the spot. The Americans could not enforce their decision — Germany is a sovereign state and is not under the jurisdiction of the USA. (Thank g-d for that) In moments of clarity, US courts have also ruled that German legal matters cannot be put to a US court — sovereign immunity. In any case, this petulance is galling.