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  • Caroline Cassin

Art loot spoliation and Nazi time: a fair solution?

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

I am an LPC BPP student with experience on war restitution and Nazi spoliation. I am running the French magazine in London. My GDL study project was: "Art loot spoliation and Nazi time: a fair solution?".

Welcome to my Arts&Law blog post. I will can share updates about business, trends, news, Art & crime, and more.


Caroline Cassin


Whether the UK has achieved a ‘fair and just solution’ in addressing Holocaust survivors’ restitution claims regarding spoliation of art in World War II

Whether the UK has achieved a ‘fair and just solution’ in addressing Holocaust survivors’ restitution claims regarding spoliation of art in World War II

Armed conflicts pose multiple threats to cultural heritage and the looting of art is one of them. The issue of Nazi-confiscated art has been the center of attention since the late 1990s with Holocaust survivors and their heirs seeking the return of cultural objects as a moral duty, for what Sharansky defines as, ‘the greatest theft in history’.[1]

Despite numerous international declarations proclaiming moral obligations for governments to restitute Nazi-looted art and cultural property to Holocaust victims and their heirs, numerous legal claims were lost and rejected and never returned to the rightful owners. Over the years, claimants have faced multiple legal obstacles such as statute limitations, multiple jurisdiction issues, producing sufficient evidence, and anti-seizure legislations.

For Bazyler and Alford,[2] Nazi-looted art is the ‘unfinished business of World War II…the last prisoners of war and an imperfect justice.’[3] Many perpetrating nations have attempted to resolve this ‘imperfect justice’ by promising to find ‘fair and just solutions’ in several international treaties and gatherings – but the national implementation of these promises has been mixed and largely disappointing.

The United Kingdom set up government advisory panels to focus on moral issues and also enacted the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) (Amendment) Act 2019 to prevent holocaust objects from expiring from the statute of limitations. This essay will explore the UK’s approach to this historical injustice, it will explain the legal hurdles preventing the return of looted art and how the UK has addressed them, and it will attempt to determine whether the UK has achieved its promise of a fair and just solution.

[1] Hector Feliciano, 'The Great Culture Robbery: the Plunder of Jewish-Owned Art' in Avi Beker (ed), The Plunder of Jewish Property during the Holocaust (New York University Press 2001) 164 [2] Michael J. Bazyler, 'Litigating the Holocaust' (1999) 33 University of Richmond Law Review 601 [3] Stuart Eizenstat, Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor, and the Unfinished Business of World War II (Public Affairs 2004)

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