Unresolved Issues of the Twentieth Century: The Quest For the Repatriation of Nazi Looted Art

A talk by Donald Burris

December 5, 2017 | 7:00 p.m. | Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education

724 NW Davis St., Portland OR 97209

Among the most important unfinished business of the twentieth century is the reversal of the consequences of the looting policy of the Nazis with regard to valuable artworks held by members of the Jewish faith residing in Germany and the occupied European nations. The recovery process started slowly during the war years but became intensified by the so-called “Monuments Men” who served alongside the Allied troops as they fought their way to free the conquered lands. Unfortunately, their work ended in 1945 after they had stored as many objects as were recoverable in central storage facilities within the countries where the works were seized.

Despite the existence of postwar treaties on compensation programs instituted and statutes enacted in the formerly occupied countries, those few Holocaust survivors and their heirs who were not completely preoccupied with survival and their new lives in their adopted countries faced numerous obstacles, ranging from legal technicalities to outright hostility from citizens and the governments in their former homelands. It was only in the 1990s that the situation began to evolve. Greater recognition of the moral imperative of bringing justice to the victims and their families led to the adoption of several international pronouncements and conferences and the development new adjudicative and settlement mechanisms. There still remained the need for lawyers to try to assist the few remaining survivors and their heirs in restoring at least a portion of their heritage.

For almost twenty years, speaker Donald S. Burris has been one of a small group of American lawyers who have dedicated their careers to this fight. He will describe his firm’s well-known and successful attempt to retrieve the “Woman in Gold” painting for its rightful owner, the incredible Maria Altmann. As Mr. Burris will describe, the fate of looted works of art has been especially controversial. Transnational claims for the recovery of artwork, particularly iconic pieces, are still in some contexts sometimes perceived as unseemly or directly conflicting with national heritage and the legitimate interests of cultural institutions. On a more direct front these modern “Monuments Men” have had to overcome many forms of procedural arguments, such as laches and the statute of limitations, interposed by articulate and experienced litigators retained by museums, collectors and even countries such as Austria and Spain. Read More.

This program is made possible in part by a Public Program Grant from Oregon Humanities.

Event Sponsors

Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education


$8 members, $10 general public


Judith Margles at (503) 226-3600 or jmargles@ojmche.org