Despite the divisive political climate, US Congress managed to find bipartisanship in last week’s vote on the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 (HEAR).
The bill passed with flying colors on Friday in both the House and the Senate after legislators unanimously cast their ballots in favor of justice for Holocaust survivors. Once signed into law by President Obama, the bill will standardize the statute of limitations by which heirs of stolen artworks may file legal claims. The HEAR Act will now allocate a six-year window for claims to be made following the discovery of an artwork or lost property.
Unlike the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, a 1998 treaty signed by 44 countries, this new legislation will ensure that the legal process of cultural recovery is easier to navigate for heirs of artworks pillaged during World War II.
“Artwork lost during the Holocaust is not just property,” Republican senator John Cornyn of Texas told the New York Times. “To many victims…it is a reminder of the vanished world of their families.”
Throughout its hearing, the bill was championed by several high-profile figures, including the Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, who portrayed Austrian Jewish collector Maria Altmann in the 2015 film Woman in Gold. In a testimony before Congress in June, Mirren insisted that restitution is more than just delivering material objects to their rightful owners, but something that, notes the Art Newspaper, “gives Jewish people — and other victims of the Nazi terror — the opportunity to reclaim their history, their culture, their memories and, most importantly, their families,”
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