BERLIN — A German mediation panel on Nazi-era art claims on Thursday ruled against the heirs of Jewish collectors in a dispute over the 1935 sale of a trove of medieval church artifacts.
The fight centers on the Guelph Treasure or “Welfenschatz” of gold, silver and gem-studded relics believed to be worth hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in total.
The now 44-piece collection, the largest German church treasure in public hands, is kept in a Berlin museum overseen by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
The case comes at a sensitive time after news last year of a vast trove of long-lost art found in a Munich flat sparked complaints of German foot-dragging on returning Nazi loot.
The state-backed Limbach Commission found that the former Jewish owners did not sell the Welfenschatz treasure under duress and received a fair market price from the state of Prussia.
The body said it was “aware of the severe situation of the art dealers and their persecution in the Nazi era.”
But it added that it saw no evidence of “a persecution-induced forced sale” and that the price “corresponded to the situation on the art market after the world economic crisis” following the 1929 stock market crash.
The panel — whose rulings are non-binding but are seen to carry moral weight — said “it can therefore not recommend the return of the Welfenschatz to the heirs of the four art dealers and any other former co-owners”.
State Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said that, although the German government in many cases favored restitution, in this case she “hopes that the Jewish heirs will accept the recommendation of the commission.”
She said it “does not change … the fact that the German government will continue to do everything to shed light on to the Nazis’ art thefts and, when in doubt, will press for restitution.”
The president of the museum foundation, Herrmann Parzinger, welcomed the panel’s conclusion and praised it as a “thorough recommendation … that considers all the facts.” Representatives of the heirs weren’t immediately available for comment.
The collection, which has been on display in Berlin since the early 1960s and is currently at the city’s Bode Museum, is considered the largest collection of German church treasure in public hands.