Nazi looting left many Jews bereft of art they once owned, and heirs are still coming forward to collect what they say is rightfully theirs. Under a 1998 agreement, US museums in possession of the art are supposed to consider each claim on its merits. Instead, however, many institutions are using technical gimmicks to hang onto such pieces, experts and Jewish groups tell the New York Times. In some cases, for instance, museums have said claims arrived too late. In others, museums—among them the Detroit Institute of Arts, Toledo Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum—ask courts to declare artwork officially theirs before claimants sue.
"It is now so daunting for an heir to go forward," says an expert who has worked on behalf of claimants, calling museums' actions "lamentable." Museums, for their part, say they use court processes only when they've already determined a case lacks merit, and indeed, no one questions that some claims are false. Now, some are calling for the creation of an independent organization to decide such cases, rather than the courts—but enforcement could be difficult in a country where museums are generally privately owned. (Read more museum stories.)