A milestone in the dispute between the Herzog heirs and the Hungarian government

The dispute between the heirs of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog, a wealthy art collector, and the Hungarian government which "inherited" the looted art treasure has been going on ever since 1945. Baron Herzog was dead by the time of the Holocaust. He died in 1934, but his heirs hid the collection that at one point consisted of more than 2,000 pieces in the basement of one of their factories.

The collection was discovered by German and Hungarian Nazis and looted. Some of the works ended up in the private collection of Adolf Eichmann himself. Others were captured by the Soviets, which by the way the Hungarian government is claiming as its own without any success. A large number of them are, however, in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery, the Museum of Applied Arts, and of all places the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The Herzog heirs demand the return of 44 items.

The Herzog collection had some priceless paintings by such artists as El Greco, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Lucas Cranach the Elder. The three heirs–David L. de Csepel of Sherman Oaks, California and Angela Maria Herzog and Julia Alice Herzog, both of Rome, Italy–filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in which they demanded the return of the 44 pieces. That was in July 2010. The Hungarian government took its time to respond. It was only in February 2011 that they filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that a U.S. court has no jurisdiction over the case under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). In May the plaintiffs filed an opposition complaint. The Hungarian government had until June 15 to respond.

Prior to the judgment legal scholars suspected that the case might not be decided in Hungary's favor. They based their opinion on an earlier case when the Russian government's motion to dismiss a similar complaint filed by the attorneys for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement was denied. Michael Shuster of New York's Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, who is representing the Herzog heirs, pointed to two arguments for an exception under FSIA that were cited by the appellate court in the Chabad case. First, the plaintiffs argued that the objects in question had been taken in violation of international law and, second, the foreign government in question does business in the United States.

The counsel for Hungary, Thaddeus Stauber of Washington's Nixon Peabody, was certain that there were too many differences between the two cases and therefore the case would be dismissed. However, Stauber was overly optimistic. On September 1, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in Washington rejected Hungary's arguments to dismiss the lawsuit. Only eleven artworks that had been the subject of judicial proceedings in Hungary were exceptions "on grounds of comity." That means that there was a friendly settlement between another heir of Baron Herzog and the Hungarian government in 1973 amounting to about $100,000.

Anyone who is interested in Judge Huvelle's decision can read her 46-page opinion on the Internet. The most important consequence of this ruling is that Hungary must provide a detailed description of all the art treasures of questionable origin held by state-owned museums or any other state institutions. According to some art historians even Hungarian ministries hold looted art works. State officials and employees of museums must under oath give testimony and must allow the courts to study all material relevant to the art works. Up to now the Hungarian authorities kept all information concerning these items secret. This is especially glaring considering that Hungary signed agreements on various international forums concerning the compensation of victims of the Holocaust.

Some fear that this lengthy litigation will put Hungary in a very unfavorable light and claim that this messy and expensive litigation could have been avoided. In 2006 the representative of the Commission for Art Recovery, Charles Goldstein, tried to negotiate with István Hiller, minister of culture, and László Baán, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, but the two Hungarian officials refused to talk to him. As a result, he told some people who attended a conference on the subject that the Herzog heirs will sue the Hungarian government in the United States.

As Éva Hajdú of HVG put it in today's paper, now "the whole world will find out about Hungary's role in the Holocaust and the confiscation of property." Judit N. Kósa of Népszabadság yesterday in an op/ed piece welcomed the decision. After fifty years of avoiding the question the Hungarian government must finally provide a list of looted and illegally held property. The double talk that has been going on in the last twenty years will have to come to an end. However, says Kósa, she no longer believes that she will live to see the day when the Hungarian authorities come up with a list of stolen artworks. After all, she was in grade one when the Herzog heirs settled part of their claim in 1973 and since then nothing has happened. I, however, can't believe that the question can be now avoided given the court's ruling in Washington.

 

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gov-gov
Guest

How many people participated in the WWII official looting of the Jewish properties?
1000, 10,000, 100,000???
There were too many Kepiro-s and very few Bela Kiraly-s.

moreinfo
Guest
peter litvanyi
Guest

If you “nationalize” a factory: this might be very understandable under some circumstances.
If you steal a family’s art collection: that’s just a despicable act from anyone irrespective of their political stance. Now and then.
Peter Litvanyi

florian
Guest

It should be given back or the family should be compensated. I think that nothing is going to happen very quickly. An out of court settlement would be the best thing. Hungary is not going to be seen in a good light- as usual. Of course the majority of the Hungarian Media and the Government will not be bothered. Hungary is right and everyone else is wrong…..

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Florian I am afraid you are right.
The ‘Mighty One’ (O.V) and the present Hungarian Government believe that they are above all international laws, rules, treaties and obligations. This is illustrated by my post on the Militarisation of Hungary.
The problem for them is they have sort of converted their 2/3 majority into idea of ‘The Devine Right’ to rule and to the Devil with the rest of the world.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

moreinfo, thank you. I was happy to be able to see the pictures.

Kave
Guest

Recently there was the case of the Viennese Bloch-Bauer family who sued to have their art – including several famous works by Gustav Klimt – returned. The Austrian government was none to happy to give up the collection which had become almost emblematic of Vienna itself. In the end, the case was heard in the US Supreme Court, and Austria settled with the plaintiff, finally returning the disputed art. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Altmann

Member
I was able to visit the site yesterday “moreinfo” posted, but now the site is down. Interesting. I would love to read an interview with the heirs of the estate. It is my understanding that they do not want all the art back, but they want recognition that the art belongs to them. (So, they would lend it back.) I am not sure about the terms of the 1973 settlement either, but it seems that the case was not really settled. I am not sure what is the issue here. If the art was stolen (which it was), and Hungary knowingly holds on to stolen arts, they can be charged for that. Being accomplice in the crime and after the fact, well those are crimes too. I think it is a great thing to Hungary to have all these art, and on a certain way, this could turn out as a great advertising for Hungary, and I hope the current government will sit down with the heirs of the estate and work out something on how they can borrow and safe keep their extraordinary collection. To put an exhibition together from many art collections (with such fantastic artists) that were… Read more »
An
Guest

I agree that Hungary should (and should have) settled with the family… but this case in some ways more complex, than the Austrian. Austria never had a communist government. I don’t even know how the Austrian state got to keep those pictures, if they were private property originally (taken by Nazis during WW2).
Now, in Hungary, an in other communist countries, not only the properties of the victims of the Holocaust were stolen by the state, but lots of other private property during communist nationalization. I think some resentment among Hungarians in cases like this may come from the fact that they see these Jewish families as powerful enough to get the property back or get some compensation (through the American court system), while other families who suffered considerable losses of private property under Communism, do not have this means of fighting for compensation, i.e paying for lawyers, etc. There was some restitution done in the 1990s, which was quite ridiculous; some people received vouchers.
I am not saying that this justifies not returning the pictures to their rightful owners or settle in any way, especially as Hungary agreed to it through several international agreements… just trying to explain the sentiment.

Guest

Some 1: This Sunday morning the site ‘moreinfo’ sent us was just fine. (GMT -4)

Kirsten
Guest

some1, perhaps if you retry it will work, a few minutes ago it was possible to open the webpage. I think that An could be right, this will be a combination of communist nationalisation which saw no reason to compensate the “rich”, whatever the reasons why they lost their property in the first place. Private property as such was “wrong”. And anti-Jewish resentments were present in the 1950s also in the Communist parties. After 1989 MSzP would have had to deal properly with its own past, and the more right-wing parties would have had to deal with the anti-Jewish resentment in the Hungarian self-definition. Perhaps an unlikely coalition but the result could be that in dealing with this nationalisation they will all cooperate.

Member

@ Gretchen, Kirsten, yes I can reach it now. Thanks.

Member

Kirsten: “Perhaps an unlikely coalition but the result could be that in dealing with this nationalisation they will all cooperate.” I hope for the same. Whatever the reasons were in the past, that cannot be undone, but the current government has its responsibility, not to hold on to stolen property. Otherwise, how will they expect to repossess from any individuals any stolen property that they purchased or obtained legally themselves. They are setting a precedent that any legal expert can use in the future for stolen goods. (By the way, this has nothing to do with that we are talking about Fidesz, It could MSZP, Jobbik or anything else. They are representing Hungary and the Hungarian law.)

Kirsten
Guest

some1, I am sorry that I wrote it so cryptically, the cooperation I was speaking of was a cooperation to prevent a sensible solution, e.g. return of the property and compensation for lending perhaps a part of it to Hungary. Both political parties have reason to oppose it, that is why I am sceptical.

Kave
Guest

An: The absence of “Communism” does not automatically absolve a government from the accusation of possessing stolen art or valuables. After the war the communist Government in Hungary aggressively agitated for – and then pocketed – the restitution monies paid by Germany to the surviving Jewish communities of Hungary. The Swiss Banks happily sat on money stolen from Holocaust victims and deposited by the Nazis in their banks until forced to pay them out in the 1990s. After receiving the released Swiss money, the local Jewish administrators in Budapest made sure it sat in escrow accounts and gathered interest before it could be distributed to any of the living survivors. It is a nasty pattern that goes beyond religion or ideology called Greed. In the case of the Herzog collection, I am sure there will be a local political backlash consisting of the “why do the Jews keep bringing up the holocaust” theme. Der Spiegel had a good analysis of the art issue – the Herzog case is mentioned in part 3: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,545392,00.html

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

I have been following the Herzog art case for many years now, as the original heir, the daughter of Mor Herzog lived nearby and our local paper occasionally published articles about the case.
David de Csepel, who filed the suit, actively tried to negotiate with the Hungarian authorities for 10 years, offering a number of possible settlement scemes. The Hungarians basically rebuffed him and boycotted the talks It was in frustration, after 10 years, he filed his lawsuit.
Another observation: Switzerland also, for many years, claimed bank secrecy laws prevented it from addressing Jewish claims on accounts held by holocaust victims. After years of stonewalling, they were persuaded by serious consequences threatened against swiss assets held in the US and opened their books leading to settling the claims.
The United States clearly has no jurisdiction in Hungary, but the Hungarian Government has assets in the United States.

Replica Breitling Navitimer
Guest

What I want to say is that every body may have his own points on certain subjects and things. So sometimes it is really not easy to say who is right or wrong, worse or better. However, what we should always do is that we must consider that everyone’s opinion must have his own negative and positive points so that we can learn from each other in any case. Anyway , you do have got a good point and thank you for sharing.

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