April 21, 2017 / 7:01 PM / 8 months ago

German group appeals decision to allow lawsuit over Nazi art theft claims

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German foundation appealed on Friday a decision by a U.S. federal judge to allow a lawsuit to proceed against Germany over claims of a Nazi-era theft from Jewish art dealers of a collection of medieval art treasures.

The Prussian Cultural Foundation (SPK) said the claim, which seeks the return of the Welfenschatz collection including centuries-old busts of saints and golden crucifixes, was without merit and did not involve a forced sale due to Nazi persecution.

Hermann Parzinger, president of the foundation, said this view had been confirmed by a German commission, which concluded in 2014 that restitution in this case was not appropriate.

“SPK’s long-standing practice shows that we are committed to the fair and just resolution of legitimate claims to Nazi-confiscated art, consistent with the Washington Conference Principles – this has not changed,” Parzinger said in a statement.

He said SPK had returned more than 350 works of art, including a van Gogh drawing and a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, and more than 1,000 books from its collections in response to over 50 restitution claims since 1999.

A U.S. federal judge last month agreed to hear claims from the heirs of three Jewish art dealers who say the Nazis terrorized their families in 1935 into selling the collection at just 35 percent of its market value.

The German commission assessing Nazi-era property claims concluded in 2014 that the low sales price was a product of a collapse in the art market during the Great Depression, and not because the Jewish art collectors were persecuted.

The Welfenschatz was collected for centuries by the Brunswick Cathedral in Brunswick, Germany, according to court records. In 1929, a group of Jewish art dealers in Germany bought the art from the Duke of Brunswick.

Six years later, the dealers sold the art to the state of Prussia, then being administered by prominent Nazi official Hermann Goering, for well below market prices.

A lawyer for the heirs said the money the dealers received was then deposited in a bank account they were unable to access because it was blocked by the Nazis.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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