Bakalar v Vavra - Second Circuit September 2, 2010

Nazi Art Looting - Jewish Property Declaration Law of April 26 1938


Bakalar v. Vavra was the first Holocaust-Era art case ever tried in a US federal court. The Second Circuit determined that New York, rather than Swiss law, should apply to a case where Fritz Grunbaum, a prisoner who was murdered by the Nazi in the Dachau Concentration Camp, had an art collection that went missing from his Vienna apartment, passed through Switzerland for 147 days, and was sold by Otto Kallir of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York. The decision of the Second Circuit discusses the Nazi decree of April 26, 1938, which required all Jews in the Reich with 5,000 RM or more in property to declare the assets to the Reich. Austria sealed all of the files containing Jewish Property Declarations from 1945 until 1993. Now that concentration camp records in Germany and elsewhere are being unsealed as well, Jewish families can finally trace their families and learn about the property that was stolen. In 1955 Austria promised to give all of the property back, this is in a treaty with the United States called the Austrian State Treaty. Because of records being unsealed throughout Europe, more and more families are able to trace objects now in the US that were taken from them in Europe. Bakalar v. Vavra is important because it acknowledges the roles of powers of attorney being used to camouflage theft.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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