Westfeld Heirs Sue Germany in U.S. Court

A lawsuit brought October 3, 2008, in federal court in Tennessee against the Federal Republic of Germany as successor to the Nazi government that ruled Germany from 1933-1945 was dismissed in summer of 2009. The heirs of Walter Westfeld sought monetary damages for the loss of the inventory of Westfeld's art dealership which was seized in Germany by the Third Reich. This is a new approach as it did not seek the return of the art whose current whereabouts is unknown and therefore is not specified in the complaint.

Plaintiff argued that the German government could be sued in the United States under an exception to the Foreign Sovereigns Immunity Act (FSIA). Judge Todd J. Campbell of Federal District Court rejected that argument in a Memorandum granting the Defendant's motion to dismiss. A key consideration was whether the Third Reich's seizure of the assets and their subsequent sale was a commercial activity that would provide an exception to the FSIA; the Court's analysis concluded it was not, that the seizure of assets was an act of the Third Reich as a state.

A Federal Appeals Court has dismissed claims against the German government by heirs of an art dealer whose collection was seized by the Nazis and sold at auction during World War II. Fred Westfield, a retired Nashville professor, filed the federal lawsuit seeking payment for the art and tapestry collection belonging to his uncle Walter Westfield, a German art dealer in the 1930s. According to the lawsuit, Westfield attempted to send his art collection to Tennessee, where his brother lived, but Nazi officials seized and sold off the collection. Westfield later died in the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the claims against the German government were beyond its jurisdiction. See Order and Judgment, February 2, 2011.


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