From Murder To Museums: Abraham Lincoln, Adolf Hitler and The Hunt For Nazi Looted Art In America-Current Legal Controversies Over Nazi Art Looting

Program Number: 2857

Program Date: 08/29/2018


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Museums today acknowledge that significant amounts of Nazi-looted art may have found its way into collections supported by U.S. taxpayers. The United States and its Allies fought World War II, promising, in victory, to undo the horrors of Nazism. At Nuremberg, Nazis were tried based on international law, which, in turn was based on the Lieber Code, Abraham Lincoln’s Executive Order 100 of April 23, 1863 which forbid taking the cultural property of the enemy. In 1998, in the wake of District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s spectacular seizure of two paintings by the artist Egon Schiele at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, forty-four nations gathered in Washington D.C. at the Washington Conference on Nazi Confiscated Artwork to agree that in cases of artworks, the true owners should be determined, regardless of statutes of limitations and that, where possible, artworks should be returned to their true owners. As recently as January 16, 2013 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the U.S. public policy favoring the return of Nazi looted artworks to Holocaust victims worldwide.
In 1998, U.S. museums opposed federal legislation to require museums to return looted artworks to Jewish families, arguing that the law of every state in the U.S. permits the true owners to recover stolen artworks. Under the common law of the United States, where there is a thief in the chain of title of an artwork, no subsequent purchaser can take good title. Accordingly, Congress did not create federal remedies for families of Holocaust victims. However, from 1998 to 2016, U.S. museums and private owners have gone to court to successfully assert statutes of limitation and laches, “technical” defenses cutting off the rights of true owners to investigate and recover stolen artworks.
On December 16, 2016 following unanimous approval by the U.S. Congress, 2016 President Barack Obama signed the HEAR Act into law, extending the statute of limitations on Nazi looted art in many cases to six years following the actual discovery of an artwork’s location.
Should U.S. prosecutors take a hard look at stolen art in U.S. museums? Should Holocaust victims have the same inheritance rights as any other heirs? Should courts use state or foreign law to launder property that federal law defines as stolen? Should U.S. museums be permitted to continue to sue Jewish families or keep artworks in their collections that belong to murdered families? Should the U.S. persevere in dismantling the evils perpetrated by the Nazis? Or is it time to forget Abraham Lincoln’s dream for a world that is committed to taking the profit motive out of war? Attorneys Raymond J. Dowd and Sam Blaustein explore these ethical and legal questions.

Raymond Dowd is a partner in the law firm of Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP in New York City. He authored Copyright Litigation Handbook (now in its 10th edition).

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Available in states

California, Colorado Eligible, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey Eligible, New York, New York - Experienced Attorneys Only, Texas Self Study

Credit Information

50 minute credit hour - 1.0 General CLE credit, based on a 50-minute credit hour, including 1.0 credit Ethics
60 minute credit hour - 1.0 General CLE credit, based on a 60-minute credit hour, including 1.0 credit Ethics

State Program Numbers

Credit Eligible for Experienced Attorneys Only in NY


Samuel A. Blaustein

Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP

Samuel A. Blaustein is a member of Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP’s litigation, arbitration and mediation and intellectual property and art law practice areas. Prior to joining Dunnington, Mr. Blaustein served as a law clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for the Hon. Laura Taylor Swain.

Mr. Blaustein specializes in commercial disputes in New York state and federal courts from inception through appeal. Mr. Blaustein has won multiple temporary restraining orders on behalf of shareholders; permanent injunctions in favor of international broadcasters; compelled arbitration against large corporations and helped to recover artworks looted during World War II.
Mr. Blaustein attended Brandeis University and Brooklyn Law School. He currently served as the Co-Chair of the Brandeis Lawyers Network Committee.

Admissions: New York State, the U.S. District Courts and Bankruptcy Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second and Federal Circuits.

Member: Federal Bar Association and the New York County Lawyers Association.


Raymond Dowd

Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP

Raymond Dowd is a partner in the law firm of Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP in New York City. He authored Copyright Litigation Handbook (now in its 10th edition). His practice consists of federal and state trial and appellate litigation, arbitration and mediation, having served as lead trial counsel in broadcasting, fashion, publishing, art law, copyright, trademark, cybersquatting, privacy, trusts and decedents estates, licensing, corporate and real estate cases, often working closely with experts in valuation. He has litigated questions of Austrian, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Russian and Swiss law in U.S. courts and led cross-border investigations and discovery. He litigated landmark decisions from Surrogate’s Court to the New York Court of Appeals, including the Estate of Doris Duke and recovering an ancient Assyrian tablet for Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. Mr. Dowd lectures internationally on copyright litigation and on Nazi art looting.

He serves on the Board of Governors of the National Arts Club, co-founded the annual Art Litigation and Dispute Resolution Institute at New York County Lawyers’ Association and served as the Federal Bar Association’s General Counsel . He is an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School, where he serves on the Board of the alumni association and co-chairs its International Affinity Group. Mr. Dowd is a graduate of Manhattan College and earned his law degree at Fordham Law School. He speaks French and Italian. In 2018, he received the Harold J. Baer, Jr. Public Service Award from Network of Bar Leaders at a ceremony held at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.