SCOTUS Weighs In on the Guelph Treasure

Justices side with Germany
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 3, 2021 3:17 PM CST
Heirs to Jewish Art Dealers Get No Help From SCOTUS
In this Jan. 9, 2014, a medieval Cross, part of the Welfenschatz, or Guelph Treasure, is displayed at the Bode Museum in Berlin.   (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with Germany in a dispute involving the heirs of Jewish art dealers and the 1935 sale of a collection of medieval Christian artwork called the Guelph Treasure. The collection—called the Welfenschatz in German and dating to the Holy Roman Empire, per Politico—is said to now be worth at least $250 million. The heirs argued that their relatives were forced to sell the collection of gold and silver artworks, including elaborate containers used to store Christian relics, intricate altars and ornate crosses, for below market value amid Nazi pressure in the run-up to World War II. The heirs originally pressed their claims in Germany, but a German commission found the artworks’ sale was made voluntarily and for fair market value. A suit was then filed in the United States, reports the AP.

Germany and the state-run foundation that owns the collection, which is on display in Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts, argued the case did not belong in American courts. Foreign nations generally cannot be sued in US courts, although there are exceptions spelled out in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The heirs tried to claim the sales fell under the heading of genocide because they came at what they asserted was an initial stage of the Holocaust. But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an opinion for a unanimous court that "the heirs have not shown that the FSIA allows them to bring their claims against Germany. We cannot permit them to bypass its design." Roberts wrote that Americans would be "surprised ... if a court in Germany adjudicated claims by Americans that they were entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars because of human rights violations committed by the United States Government years ago."

(More US Supreme Court stories.)

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