US court dismisses Nazi-era Guelph Treasure art dispute

BERLIN — A US court has thrown out a lawsuit against a German museum foundation over a medieval treasure brought by heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art dealers, saying the US lacked jurisdiction to hear such a lawsuit.

The foundation, which oversees Berlin’s museums, said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last week granted the foundation’s motion to dismiss the 2015 refund lawsuit filed against it, ending the case in United States, absent a complaint by the plaintiff.

The Welfenschatz, or Guelph Treasure, which is at the center of a long-running ownership dispute, includes silver and gold crucifixes, altars, intricate silverwork and other relics worth more than 200 million euros (dollars).

The collection, which has been on display in Berlin since the early 1960s and is currently at the city’s Bode Museum, is considered the largest collection of German church treasures in public hands.

The heirs maintained that their ancestors had no choice but to sell the Christian artifacts in 1935 to the Nazi government for less than their value.

The state-run foundation that owns the collection has said the collectors were not forced to sell the treasures, arguing among other things that the collection was not even in Germany at the time of its sale.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the museum foundation, also known as Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz or SPK, Herrmann Parzinger, welcomed the court’s decision.

“SPK is pleased with the district court’s decision, which reaffirms SPK’s long-held view that this lawsuit seeking repayment of the Guelph Treasure should not be heard in a US court,” Parzinger said.

“The SPK has also long maintained that this lawsuit lacked merit as the Guelph Treasure’s sale in 1935 was not a forced sale due to Nazi persecution,” he added.

The heirs initially made their claim in Germany, but a German commission found that the sale of the artwork was voluntary and at fair market value. A lawsuit was then filed in the United States. Germany and the SPK Foundation argued that the case did not belong in American courts.

The U.S. District Court ruling follows a February 2021 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a lower court’s denial of the Berlin Foundation’s earlier motion to dismiss that lawsuit.

Leave a Comment