Supreme Court rejects appeal by Holocaust heirs
February 19, 2021
(JTA) — The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously rejected an appeal by Holocaust survivors and their heirs who wanted to pursue restitution claims in the United States after failing in the countries where the art was stolen.
The opinion published Wednesday, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed with the defense and with the U.S. government, which joined the defense, that allowing the lawsuits to go ahead would contradict international agreements.
“As a Nation, we would be surprised — and might even initiate reciprocal action — if a court in Germany adjudicated claims by Americans that they were entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars because of human rights violations committed by the United States Government years ago,” Roberts wrote. “There is no reason to anticipate that Germany’s reaction would be any different were American courts to exercise the jurisdiction claimed in this case.”
During oral arguments in December, some of the justices had appeared skeptical of the government’s position and expressed surprise that the solicitor general could not identify how the lawsuits would damage the nation’s foreign policy.
The two cases are known as the Republic of Hungary v. Simon and Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp.
The plaintiffs are Hungarian survivors who were deported to death camps and whose property was appropriated by the Hungarian collaborationist government, and the descendants of German Jewish art dealers who say that Nazi German authorities coerced their ancestors into selling their collections to the state at less than market value.
The defendants, the governments of Germany and Hungary, claimed that the Foreign Sovereignty Immunities Act protects foreign governments from having to defend claims in U.S. courts.
The plaintiffs contended that an exception to the act holds that claims regarding property taken in violation of international law may be pursued in U.S. courts.