Herzog Heirs Sue Hungary in US Court to Recover Art
The heirs of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog, a Budapest collector of fine art who assembled one of the greatest art collections in Europe before World War II, filed suit against Hungary and certain Hungarian museums in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 27, 2010. The family is seeking to recover many paintings and other works of art taken in the early 1940s that either remained in or came into the possession of Hungarian government museums. The list includes major paintings of the highest quality by artists such as El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zurbarán, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet. It also includes Renaissance paintings and sculptures and some ancient works of art.
The family tried negotiating with the government from the time of the Soviet bloc's dissolution, but after eight fruitless years filed suit in Hungary for a small portion of the Herzog Collection. Although a lower court decision in Hungary in 2000 was favorable, after eight more years of litigation, the family was denied restitution. The lawsuit filed in the District of Columbia seeks to recover all of the artworks held by the defendants. The family’s claim is for the subsequent breaches of bailment agreements they claimed they entered into with Hungary and not for the original expropriation of the Collection.
A motion to dismiss the action made by the defendants was denied on September 1, 2011 except for an attempt to reopen the earlier Hungarian court proceeding involving 11 paintings. On March 2, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted both parties’ petitions for permission for leave to appeal.
Hungary’s appeal repeated many of the arguments it made in the district court, namely, that the district court lacked jurisdiction under the FSIA, the claimant failed to state a claim for bailment and that the family’s claims were barred by the FSIA’s “treaty exception”, the statute of limitations, the political question doctrine, and the act of state doctrine. The Herzog family’s cross-appeal concerned the dismissal of their claims to the 11 paintings on international comity grounds.
The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s partial denial of its motion to dismiss and reversed the district court decision dismissing the family’s claims at issue in the earlier litigation.
The Herzog heirs have set up a website about the collection and their claims. See: http:www.hungarylootedart.com. Similar issues to the ones dealt with in this case can be found in Abelesz v. Magyar Nemzeti Bank (7th Cir. Aug. 22, 2012) available on the right.
Lucas Cranach the Elder The Annunciation to Saint Joachim
- Complaint of the Herzog Heirs against Four Museums in Hungary, July 27, 2010
- Complaint of the Herzog Heirs (Hungarian translation)
- Motion to Dismiss, Filed: February 15, 2011
- Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendant's' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint: Filed on May 2, 2011
- [PROPOSED] Order Denying Motion to Dismiss, May 2, 2011
- Press Release: Plaintiffs Respond to Hungary's Meritless Motion to Dismiss in Holocaust Looted Art Case (May 4, 2011)
- Defendants’ June 15, 2011 Reply and Reply Banki Declaration
- Banki Declaration Appendix, Jun 15, 2011
- Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss, Jun 15, 2011
- Reply in Support of Defendants’ Motion for Judicial Notice of Documents and Facts, Jun 15, 2011
- Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum In support of Cross Motion for Certification, November 7, 2011
- Filed Petition for Permission to Appeal Purusant to 28 U.S.C. 1292(b), December 9, 2011
- On Defendants’ Petition for Permission to Appeal, January 3, 2012
- Appellant Brief, June 12, 2012
- Response/Principal Brief of Plaintiffs- Appellees/Cross-Appellants, July 27, 2012
- Page proof Brief of Appellants/Cross-Appellees, June 12, 2012
- Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss, July 25, 2014
- Declaration of Alycia Regan Benenati, July 25, 2014
Press & Scholarly
- Press Release regarding the Lawsuit, July 27, 2010
- "Hungary Sued in Holocaust Art Claim" Carol Vogel, New York Times, July 28, 2010
- "Roadblocks Remain in Case of Paintings Lost to Nazis", Judy Dempsey, New York Times, October 28, 2010
- Federal Court Rejects Hungary’s Motion to Dismiss and Delivers Key Victory to Herzog Heirs in Holocaust Looted Art Case, September 2, 2011
- HERZOG HEIRS CAN PROCEED WITH U.S. ACTION TO RECOVER ALL BUT 11 ARTWORKS: IFAR Journal, Vol. 12, no. 4, 2011
- Art News, June 2012, Painting has been recovered by the Commission for Art Recovery and Clemens Toussaint in Poland in May, 2012
- International Comity‘s Threat to the Restitution of Stolen Holocaust Art: The Cautionary Tale of the Herzog Litigation by Hanna Lundqvist
- Holocaust Victims of Bank Thef v. Magyar Nemzeti Bank : CA7 11-2387 (08273/001), August 22, 2012
- Words (A poem) By Elizabeth Weiss de Csepel
- Reclaiming Lost Treasures, by Konstantin Akinsha, Art News, June 2012
- Judge Allows Suit Against Hungary Over Artworks to Proceed By Carol Vogel, September 5, 2011
- A milestone in the dispute between the Herzog heirs and the Hungarian government, September, 10, 2011
- New Hungarian Constitution Shirks Responsibility for the Holocaust by Thomas Ország-Land, New England Review, September 2011
- Art Restitution in Hungary:A Comparative Case Study of the Sarospatak Books and the Herzog Collection, by Jennifer Mohr Otterson (Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs), June 3, 2011
- Hungary is Powerless to Keep Stolen Art from Nazi Restitution - February 4, 2013
- U.S. Court of Appeals Rules Holocaust Looted Art Case Against Hungary Can Proceed in its Entirety, Business Wire, April 24, 2013
- Herzog Heirs Say They Are Closer to Recovering Nazi-Looted Art, Bloomberg.com, Catherine Hickey, April 24, 2013
- Heirs Can Seek Return of Art Stolen in Holocaust, Courthouse News Services, by Jack Bouboushian, April 23, 2013
- D.C. Circuit leaves no easy out for Hungary in Nazi art recovery suit, Thomson Reuters News & Insights, by Alison Frankel, April 22, 2013
- Appellate court says case against Hungary over looted artwork can proceed, Los Angeles Times, by Jori Finkel, April 19, 2013