US Supreme Court will hear cases of Jews suing Germany, Hungary over Nazi art

Judges agree to discuss lawsuits by groups saying they were forced to sell artifacts to Nazis; decision to focus on whether cases belong in US courts

The US Supreme Court on June 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The US Supreme Court on June 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON, United States — The US Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a case involving the descendants of a group of Jewish art dealers from Germany who say their ancestors were forced to sell a collection of religious art to the Nazi government in 1935.

The justices will decide whether the dispute involving foreign citizens suing a foreign government belongs in US courts. A lower court allowed the case to go forward, but Germany asked the US Supreme Court to weigh in.

The justices also took a case involving Hungarian nationals suing Hungary over property taken from them during World War II.

In the case involving Germany, the group of people who sued are descendants of art dealers who in 1929 together bought a collection of religious artworks from the 11th to 15th centuries known as the Guelph Treasure. The collection is known in German as the Welfenschatz. An appeals court in Washington allowed the case to go forward in 2018.

The justices are expected to hear both cases sometime after they take a break for the summer and resume hearing arguments in the fall. It is not clear whether the justices will hear the cases in their courtroom or by telephone as they did in May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Nicholas M. O’Donnell, who represents the heirs of the art dealers, said that “Germany seeks to eliminate recourse for Nazi-looted art and the Court will have the chance to answer this question of critical importance for Holocaust victims.”

Jonathan Freiman, one of Germany’s lawyers, said in an email: “We’re glad that the Supreme Court will hear the case and look forward to explaining why this dispute doesn’t belong in a US court.”

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