Brooklyn Journal of International Law vol:37 issue:1 pages:117-186
The 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets is the international
community’s latest effort to effectuate the return of looted artworks to victims of Nazispoliation.
However, over the past years, U.S. courts have shown little difficulty in
brushing aside these high-flown international commitments when denying yet another
claim for recovery.
This Article analyzes the tenuousness of public international law arguments in
disputes seeking restitution of looted artwork from U.S. museums. It interprets the
imperviousness of the U.S. courts to these international agreements as a result of their
non-self-executing nature, their reticent implementation in domestic law and the private
status of the leading American art museums.
Thereupon, this Article exposes the hypocrisy of the American policy towards art
restitution by contrasting the above analysis with the United States’ strongly proclaimed
support of restitution efforts and exacting attitude towards other countries. Taking into
consideration the participation of the majority of European countries in the international
art restitution agreements of Washington, Vilnius and Terezin, this Article compares the
U.S. position with the often denounced European reticence regarding the restitution of
stolen artworks. The analysis will reveal that the U.S. denunciation of the European
position is not only inappropriate given its own shortcomings, but also inaccurate taking
into account the serious restitutional efforts displayed in a number of West European
countries. The article’s final purpose is to argue that there is no need for additional nonbinding
declarations regarding Nazi-era art looting, as long as existing international
framework has not been sufficiently implemented.