Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is urging Congress to lift statutes of limitation and other procedural hurdles so that Jews and other victims of the Holocaust can recover their works of art that were stolen by the Nazis.
The bipartisan bill facilitating the reclaiming of stolen art, the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, was passed by a unanimous voice vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 15.
Booker, a cosponsor of the bill, said in a Sept. 16 press release, “Our legal system should provide justice to those whose cultural property the Nazis so brazenly seized as part of their genocide against the Jewish people and other groups. Existing statutes of limitation are being used to unfairly deny legitimate claims to stolen art, and demand victims of these crimes present a case based on virtually nonexistent records.”
If passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would create a new six-year statute of limitations for claims to art that was wrongfully taken because of racial, ethnic, or religious persecution by the Nazis or their allies during the period from Jan. 1, 1933, to Dec. 31, 1945.
Among those who have aided the recovery of art stolen by the Nazis is Harry Ettlinger of Rockaway, who escaped as a child from Germany in 1938 and fled to the United States, where he later enlisted in the U.S. Army.
In 1944, instead of deploying him to the bloody Battle of the Bulge, the army reassigned him to a special unit called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section, where his fluency in German came in handy. The section’s 350 soldiers — known as the Monuments Men — were tasked with collecting and protecting cultural treasures in the European war zones.
“The Nazis were taking art from anyplace they could find,” Ettlinger told NJ Jewish News in 2012. “They murdered Holocaust victims and took their belongings. They took from museums. They raided everything in France,” he said. Experts estimate that the artwork the Nazis looted is worth tens of millions of dollars.
Ettlinger helped rescue paintings stashed deep inside a salt mine in Heilbronn, Germany, where thousands of pieces of art were buried deep in the ground by the slave labor of Hungarian Jews.