German court mulls restitution of Nazi-seized art

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The posters became part of the German Historical Museum’s collection in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Peter Sachs has said he only learned of the existence of the collection in 2005, and began fighting then for the return of the posters. But there is no clear German law on how he might get them back because of the particular circumstances in the case.

Restitution laws provide for owners of real estate expropriated by East Germany to have it returned now that Germany has been reunified _ and for any compensation paid during the decades when Germany was divided to be paid back. But the restitution laws do not address “moveable property” _ like the posters _ which was never expected to resurface.

In this case, the posters also were not officially expropriated by East Germany, but simply ended up there. Further complicating the issue is that all restitution claims were supposed to have been filed by 1993, before Peter Sachs even knew the posters still existed.

Normal German civil law does provide for the return of such objects, such as when stolen property is relocated, but the question is whether restitution law supersedes regular civil law.

If the court decides that it does, as the museum argues, the posters would stay where they are _ in the German Historical Museum, though still owned by Peter Sachs.

“If it were just to be decided under civil law, it would be clear,” said Matthias Druba, a Berlin lawyer who also represents Sachs. “Peter is the owner, and the owner has the right to decide where the things that belong to him should be.”

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