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Art Law and Culture Society Hosts Speaker on Nazi Era Litigation

On Wednesday, November 6th, Professor Jennifer Kreder from Northern Kentucky University presented a talk about Nazi-era Art Litigation, an area in which she has significant experience having previously worked on such litigation. The timing of her presentation could not have been more perfect with the recent uncovering of 1,400 stolen works of art, including works by Picasso and Matisse, discovered in a Munich apartment of a now deceased wartime art dealer.

Professor Kreder's talk was focused on the tragedy of the Holocaust which, along with the significant and disgusting loss of life, included the theft of most, if not all, Jewish people's personal property. The Nazis either created fake contracts for the "sale" of artwork, forced people under duress to hand over their artwork and heirlooms, or simply stole it. The amount of this stolen artwork is largely unknown, but is estimated in the hundreds of thousands with many works of art valued in the multi-million dollar range. Litigation in this area has been about recovering the property and returning it to its rightful owners, but problems have arisen concerning the statute of limitations. After a few very successful court cases, litigation in this area has become less successful. The sad fact is that courts more recently are setting the date for the tolling of the statute of limitations well before it was even possible for many of these people to even know where to look. Sadder still, museums, who are the current owners of many stolen works, have successfully sought declaratory judgment against Holocaust survivors and their heirs based on statute of limitations grounds. It seems that any future litigation concerning these precious works and their rightful owners will be largely unsuccessful. Professor Kreder's presentation was fascinating, yet tragic and exposed many of us to any area of the law that was previously unknown. It generated an excellent crowd and generated some interesting conversations.

Nikki Antolic
Art Law & Culture Society, President
Kentucky Law Journal, staff editor
J.D. Candidate 2015