United States: Germany Relents On Nazi-Looted Art Advisory Commission Jewish Membership

Last Updated: March 14 2016
Article by Nicholas M. O'Donnell

Barely a week ago German Minister of Culture Monika Grütters was dismissively rejecting any changes to the Advisory Commission that issues recommendations on claims of Nazi-looted art in German museums. Today, in a classic Friday afternoon news dump, Germany caved to a drumbeat of pressure to include Jewish members of the Commission, pressure that began right here and continued with the support of colleagues and friends around the world. The lesson? No voice is too small to make a difference.

It is hard to believe how quickly this all happened. Less than two weeks ago, Grütters was giving a softball interview at an Oscar party that she was attending for visibility for the formidable German filmmaking industry. At the very end of the New York Times article in which she was clearly cultivating applause for giving additional (if inadequate) funding to the Gurlitt Task Force, Grütters squarely addressed—and rejected—calls to reform the Limbach Commission to include a member of the Jewish community: "We did not do this, and for good reason," because such member "would be the only voice who would be prejudiced."

Here at the Art Law Report , this quote set off alarm bells. That afternoon, we denounced the statement:

The Minister of Culture of the Federal Republic of Germany rejects out of hand that a Jewish member of the Advisory Commission could be objective. All the other German members are apparently above reproach, but not a Jewish participant. The statement is even more ironic because the suggestion that the Advisory Commission add a member of the Jewish community was suggested by none other than Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (SPK), which has relied on that very Advisory Commission's recommendation not to return the Welfenschatz.

The timing was prescient because Grütters was due in New York the next day to meet with Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress and a vocal proponent of changes to Limbach. While at other public events, Grütters apparently tried to claim that "prejudiced" was a mistranslation of "critical." That is extraordinarily unlikely (assuming the original interview was even in German, about which the New York Times article does not say one way or another) since voreingenommon (prejudiced) and kritisch are hardly confusing, but also irrelevant since they accuse the hypothetical Jewish member of preconceived bias.

None of this was happening on a vacuum. As we noted at the recent withdrawal of the Flechtheim heirs from a Limbach proceeding for procedural irregularities and unfairness, Limbach in its current form has outlasted its usefulness. On March 9, prominent attorneys who have brought claims to Limbach, including my co-counsel in the Welfenschatz case Markus Stötzel and Mel Urbach, sent Grütters and the Ministry an open letter demanding change.

Still, the Ministry and Grütters were clearly planning to ignore the question and assume it would go away. It issued a press release with vague statements about considering reforms, making no promises and taking no positions.

On Wednesday, however, the sails began to take wind. Unprompted, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which is either the largest or second largest circulation newspaper in Germany and a dominant cultural voice, picked up the story, citing the March 3, 2016 Art Law Report as a source. This is when things began to get really interesting. The Ministry responded to a request for a quote that Grütters hadn't said (or meant to say) "prejudiced," but rather "a potential conflict of interest." Here, Catrin Lorch noted (my translation):m

But isn't this also true for Germans? They advise only in disputes about the return of art in German museums. In the Advisory Commission founded by the former constitutional judge Jutta Limbach, was comprised of up to eight 'voluntary, high-ranking individuals appointed from the scientific community and public life.' Among them in the past were only Germans.

The Ministry hastily put out a press release, defending the work of the Limbach Commission, but still rejecting the inclusion of "representatives of associations or associations, rather with individual independent personalities." Think about that. Even yesterday morning, the Ministry was content to say that the commission's German members were independent, implying Jewish members could not be.

By yesterday the momentum was unstoppable. Stötzel's letter had been picked up by the German press, as Kultur Radio Deutschland reported, noting support within the German cultural community.

I was interviewed last night on ARD,Germany's largest radio broadcast, and Stötzel gave a similar interview for Deutschlandradio.  As I noted, it remained unbelievable that a cabinet-level minister of Germany would say such a thing. Der Standard, Austria's largest paper, then posted an article entitled "Racist Faux Pas" to the Web (though curiously the title has since changed), challenging Grütters's meager defense.

And so this afternoon the other shoe dropped. In a stylishly self-serving statement, Grütters announced that she had recommended that the commission include "a person with a Jewish background." According to Grütters's statement (my translation), "this would be a strong trust building measure for the Jewish side." (small aside: I didn't know there were "sides" here). Der Spiegel repoertred that Lauder had called Grütters's stance "unreasonable." Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) reported that Michael Blumenthal, former director of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and United States Secretary of the Treasury, would be the nominee.

Seven days ago this was not even a story. The Ministry was dismissive of the prospect of any change, and viewed its trip to New York as another laudatory photo opportunity to garner praise for funding the Gurlitt Task Force (which was, remember, the title of the original New York Times article). But today that changed. It changed because people ranging from high profile individuals like Lauder, to well-known advocates like Stötzel and Urbach, to this blog, saw Grütters's statements and would not let them stand. And because members of the German press took notice and called out ugliness for what it was.  

Advocates for claimants of looted art are used to wide variety of smears. The lawyers make too much money. The claimants only care about the valuable paintings. It was too long ago. And so on.

None of these explain the tireless effort that happened here by friends and colleagues. I have no clients before Limbach. No one will ever pay me a thing for it. It is rather a victory for principle.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Nicholas M. O'Donnell
 
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.