A precious collection of medieval Christian art is at the center of a complicated ownership dispute before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled Wednesday that modern Germany cannot be sued for the Nazi era.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with Germany in a dispute over works of art taken by the Nazis from German Jewish collectors in 1935. The court unanimously rejected a lower court ruling that allowed heirs of the former owners to sue the country.
At the center of the dispute is the Gvelph Treasure, one of the most famous collections of medieval artifacts in existence. It is now valued at $250 million and is on display in the German state museum in Berlin. Jed Leiber, one of the heirs, claims that his grandfather and two other owners of the collection were forced to give it up to the Nazis for a fraction of the value.
“It was bought by Hermann Goering, perhaps one of the most famous art thieves of all time, for his buddy Adolf Hitler, the monster who killed 6 million people,” Leiber says. In 2015, the heirs sued the U.S. for the return of the collection, but Germany, backed by the Trump administration, tried to block the suit and won.
Wednesday’s decision dealt with the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, which establishes rules for U.S. conduct toward other countries in litigation.
However, the judges did not put an end to the Nazi art case. Instead, they sent it back to the lower court for arguments on whether the decision could be reviewed because the Jewish victims were no longer considered German citizens. Other laws could then be applied to the case.