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First Circuit supports return of painting taken from Jewish gallery owner by Nazis

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website] on Wednesday upheld [opinion, PDF] a grant of summary judgment for the plaintiff by the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island [official website] in an action seeking the return of a painting confiscated from a Jewish art gallery owner in Germany immediately prior to the Holocaust [JURIST news archive; USHMM backgrounder]. The case, Vineberg v. Bissonnette, centered around a work by 19th century painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter [Getty Museum backgrounder], which was confiscated from Dusseldorf art gallery owner Dr. Max Stern and auctioned off at below-market price in 1937. In 2005, Stern's estate filed a replevin action against Bissonnette for the painting, which was to be auctioned off again after having been in the private collection of Bissonnette's family since the father of German baroness Maria-Luise Bissonnette bought it in Cologne. In affirming the district court decision, Judge Bruce Selya [official profile] wrote:

A de facto confiscation of a work of art that arose out of a notorious exercise of man's inhumanity to man now ends with the righting of that wrong through the mundane application of common law principles. The mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. We need go no further. The short of it is that the district court acted well within the realm of its discretion in refusing the defendant's tardy request to reopen discovery. By like token, the court had an appropriate rationale for granting the plaintiffs' motion for brevis disposition.
AP has more.

US federal courts have presided over several other significant Holocaust cases in recent years. In February 2007, a the US District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a proposed class-action settlement [JURIST report] between Holocaust survivors and an Italian insurance company. In April 2005, a district judge approved a $21.9 million award [JURIST report] to heirs of families whose bank holdings were allegedly concealed and stolen by Swiss banks looking to gain favor with invading Nazis, and a district judge in March 2005 approved a $25.5 million settlement [JURIST report] between Hungarian Holocaust survivors and the US government over a train seized by the US Army in 1945 that was filled with gold, art, and other property, valued at the time between $50 million and $200 million.

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