The transitional justice potential of holocaust-era looted art claims : re-weaving law's lattice

O'Donnell, Therese; Perez Prat Durban, Luis and Fernandez Arriba, Gloria, eds. (2019) The transitional justice potential of holocaust-era looted art claims : re-weaving law's lattice. In: Holocausto y Bienes Culturales. Collectanea (Universidad de Huelva) . Universidad de Huelva, Huelva, Spain, pp. 115-151. ISBN 978-84-17776-18-3

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This chapter is a key contribution to a major international collection being edited by Professor Luis Perez Prat Durban and Doctor Gloria Fernandez Arriba in the Law Faculty at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Spain. This particular collection is a lead output from a Research Project on Art and Plundering. The section to which I am a principal contributor focusses upon the issues raised in the context of Nazi looted art. I was approached to participate in this collection due to my reputation as an expert on regulating the legal aftermath of the Third Reich. I have published extensively on war crimes trials, denazification, expert witness historians, Holocaust denial and looted art. The last specialism prompted this particular invitation to develop the themes from my earlier work within the context of transitional justice. This chapter analyses the restitution of Holocaust-era looted art to survivor-owners (or their heirs). Much has been written on the legal intricacies and complexities of these claims and the many obstacles facing claimants, and I have contributed to this scholarship. However, this chapter moves the debate on to consider how these claims can be re-imagined via the lens of transitional justice. Transitional justice is concerned with a context of mass atrocity, the establishment of its root causes, the apportionment of responsibility, and the revelation that abuses are not episodic but systematic. It allows certain societies which have had difficulty analysing their pasts in this area to transition and for personal transitions for survivors/heirs. Adjusting the analytical focus from a sole concentration on property law allows for a proper consideration of these instances of spoliation since the historical context of the takings can be contemplated. It facilitates a proper understanding of Nazi looting as ‘thefticide’. Courts, however, are not particularly well-equipped for the multi-faceted project which transitional justice envisages. In the context of looted art this has led to a number of initiatives in alternative dispute resolution. This chapter considers such initiatives and analyses the work of the globally-significant UK Spoliation Advisory Panel. Evaluating the work of this body substantiates my arguments regarding the importance of altering the traditional analysis of Holocaust-era looted art claims. As the chapter notes, these claims continue to proliferate highlighting that this is a contemporary, relevant area of investigation and that my work, with its novel perspective, is in the vanguard of such research.