The seminar, organized by the student division of the Human Security Law Center, under the direction of Prof. Linda Malone, titled, “All is Fair in Art and War: Confiscation of Cultural Property during Times of Armed Conflict,” explored a subject very much in the news nowadays.
Among the seminar panelists were individuals of such distinction as Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades of Cyprus, Allan Gerson and Thomas Kline, nationally recognized attorneys specializing in complex issues relating to a wide variety of art and cultural property litigation and Marion Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners.
The subject of the seminar is of great interest nationwide. Partly, because of the book, “The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War,” written by Lynn Nicholas. The book and a subsequent documentary film on the same subject focused public attention on the need to establish protocols that would lend protection to cultural heritage during times of armed conflict or occupation.
Nicholas in her book documented the Nazi plunder of looted art treasures from occupied countries and the heroic deeds of those who tried to save irreplaceable artworks. She also shed light on the often questionable activities of some Western art dealers, collectors and even museums.
“I am an attorney who is trying to hold museum directors to appropriate procedures in dealing with looted art, which usually occurs during times of armed conflict,” Gerson said in an interview that was published in the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette.
He makes a point while involved in a particular case, to enlighten the court of the evolution of standards already imposed by courts, and of instances where museum directors voluntarily assumed the duty to examine any acquisition of art which may have been looted.
“If looters of art are made aware of the fact that there will be no market for such goods that should serve as a powerful deterrent,” he said.
Thomas Kline, a partner in the law firm of Andrews Kurth LLP, has since 1989, represented governments, museums, churches, foundations and families and heirs in recovering stolen art.
“For the Nazis, destruction of “non-Aryan” cultures was policy and program, a central element of their plans for world domination,” he said. “After World War II, destruction of cultural property was declared a war crime and new international agreements focused on preventing a repetition of the Nazi rampage.”
Nevertheless, Kline noted, in Cyprus, the Turkish invasion and occupation led to a virtually complete eradication of Greek Cypriot cultural expression within the Turkish occupied area. “Churches, museums and private collections were stripped of icons, frescoes, mosaics, statues, everything of value and many thousands of objects were taken out of the country for sale abroad.”
Kline explained that the Cypriot example demonstrates that any program for protecting cultural property in times of armed conflict would have to address many issues: education and training of military forces in avoiding unnecessary damage and the obligation of occupying forces to protect cultural property, holding those who fail to take those step accountable, and a host of others.
“Publicizing losses and recoveries is also useful, “he said. “The better known losses are, the more difficult it is for them to circulate below the radar.”
For the last two years, Malone has served as co-counsel with Gerson in a lawsuit against Yale University’s museum seeking restitution for confiscation without compensation of Van Gogh’s “Night Café” by the Bolsheviks from the Russian Konowaloff family.A lawsuit pending against the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art for the recovery of a Cezanne painting, belonging once to the same Russian family.
“Once the Nazi-looted art is located in the West, the original owners usually are compensated. The big exception to this rule, however, is the art looted or confiscated by the Soviet Union. Russia reputedly holds over $10 billion of Nazi-looted art in its various museums,” Gerson said.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.