(Germany) Court Rules In Favor of Nazi-Looted Art Database

Jan Meisels Allen


A German Court ruled that the current possessor of a piece of art cannot stop a claimant from registering it on a government database of Nazi-looted are.  This is the latest in several legal challenges to listings on lostart.de  (http://www.lostart.de/Webs/EN/LostArt/Index.html)..the website is in both German and English.  The website is to help victims and their heirs recover cultural property lost due to the Nazis.   At the request of three art dealers, lostart.de removed 63 works by artist Schiele as they were claimed by the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, who perished at Dachau.  The heirs are trying to get the works re-listed on the register.  Last year a New York Court ordered one of the dealers who requested the art pieces be removed from lostart.de, to return art pieces belonging to Grünbaum’s heirs.




In 1999 an art collector from Baden-Baden, Wolfgang Peiffer, bought a painting at auction unaware that it was sold in 1937, by Max Stern, a Jewish art dealer. Mr. Stern was forced by the Nazis to liquidate his gallery and flee Germany.  The Max Stern Art Restitution Project listed the painting with lostart.de in 2016. But Peiffer has rejected requests to return Sicilian Landscape (1861), saying he believes Stern sold it in a “perfectly normal gallery transaction”.


In 2018, Pfeiffer’s lawyer filed suit in Magdeburg regional court asking the Stern estate from claiming ownership of the painting or registering it on lostart.de. The plaintiff said the listing makes the painting “unsellable in practical terms”.  The court dismissed the complaint, saying a listing on lostart.de did not constitute an ownership claim. Peiffer has appealed the ruling.


Lostart.de is administered by the government-run German Lost Art Foundation.  It registers cultural objects which as a result of persecution under the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War were relocated, moved or seized, especially from Jewish owners. To qualify for the database, an entry must pass a “plausibility assessment”. The foundation does not itself conduct provenance research into the items listed and relies on evidence presented by claimants.


In a previous lawsuit against lostart.de, according to theartnewspaper.com, “The pre-war Jewish owner of the work had sold it under duress to a Jewish banker, who was expropriated by the Nazis. Lostart.de refused to remove the listing without the approval of both sets of heirs, meaning the planned sale could not take place. The federal court upheld lostart.de’s right to continue listing the painting “because it contains factually correct information about an ongoing suspicion that it is looted art”.


In Germany, “current art holders are protected by statutes of limitation and a rule called Ersitzung, under which a good-faith buyer who has held a work of art for ten or more years gains the right of possession. Settlements can be negotiated on the basis of the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-looted art, but these were formulated with art in public collections in mind, not private collectors, and they are non-binding.” (http://www.lostart.de/Webs/EN/Datenbank/Grundlagen/WashingtonerPrinzipien.html)


To read more about lostart.de see:  http://www.lostart.de/Webs/EN/LostArt/Index.html

To read the article see:  https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/court-ruling-nazi-looted-art


Jan Meisels Allen

Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee