California Lawmaker Introduces Legislation to Help Restitution of Property Stolen During Holocaust

California Lawmaker Introduces Legislation to Help Restitution of Property Stolen During Holocaust

Shiryn Ghermezian

Visitors stand by Camille Pissarro’s “Rue Saint-Honore in the Afternoon. Effect of Rain, 1897” at Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid, Spain, April 22, 2022. Photo: REUTERS/Susana Vera

California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D) introduced legislation on Thursday that would assist California residents in recovering artwork and other types of personal property stolen during the Holocaust or other times of persecution.

Assembly Bill (AB) 2867 would mandate that California law must apply in lawsuits that involve such stolen items.

“This bill will ensure that Holocaust survivors and other victims of persecution can secure justice through our legal system and recover property that rightfully belongs to them and their families,” said Gabriel, who also co-chairs the California Legislative Jewish Caucus. “Our effort will make it crystal clear that California law must triumph over foreign law, that California stands with Holocaust survivors, and that cases must be decided based on truth, justice, and morality, not the misapplication of legal technicalities.”

The bill was inspired by a ruling in January by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that a museum in Madrid, Spain, was not forced to return a famous artwork by Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro to the heirs of a Jewish woman, even though it was stolen from her by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The court ruled against the descendants of Lilly Cassirer regarding the painting Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon. Effect of Rain. The three-judge panel said the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, which is owned by the Spanish government, could maintain ownership of the artwork and decided to apply Spanish law to the case rather than California law.

“It immediately made sense to me that this was a unique opportunity to correct a historical injustice and make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Gabriel told the Los Angeles Times about introducing AB 2867 after the court ruling earlier this year. “Respectfully, we think that the 9th Circuit got it wrong, and this law is going to make that crystal clear.”

He added that he hopes his bill will “help others, other Holocaust victims and other victims of genocide and political persecution. It’s specifically crafted to be applied more broadly.”

David Cassirer, the only surviving member of the Cassirer family, said in a statement that his father “would have been terribly disappointed in the recent ruling by the American courts, allowing Spain, through its national museum, to keep the Pissarro painting stolen by the Nazis from his beloved grandmother, Lilly.”

“But he would be so happy, and grateful, that the California legislature is taking the necessary steps to apply California’s laws ensuring the return of looted art to its rightful owners,” he noted.

California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis (D) supported Gabriel’s bill and applauded its effort to “empower California families to retrieve stolen and looted property that is rightfully theirs.”

“The decades-long effort to return confiscated property to Jewish families is morally courageous,” he said.

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