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Federal Law to Protect Rights of Heirs Headed for Test

Law aims at making it easier for families and heirs to recover art stolen by Nazis decades ago.

The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act is about to get its first use, according to The New York Times in "A Suit Over Schiele Drawings Invokes New Law on Nazi-Looted Art."

While the Nazis were plundering Europe, one of the many things the Nazis did while taking over most of Europe, was to steal artwork from the owners and keep it for themselves. Under international law, artwork is supposed to be returned to the original owners or their heirs.

The current holders of many contested works have successfully defended themselves against the heirs for technical reasons, such as the statute of limitations. To address this problem, last year the U.S. Congress passed the HEAR Act.

One of the first cases is over two drawings by Egon Schiele that were once owned by Fritz Grunbaum. The Nazis took Grunbaum's artwork from his home in Vienna in 1938 and sent him to a concentration camp, where he died.

His heirs claim the Nazis stole the artwork.

However, that has been disputed by dealers, current owners and museums, who claim the Nazis only inventoried the works. They also claim that Grunbaum's sister-in-law sold some of the works, including the two drawings in the current dispute, to a dealer in the 1950s.

Grunbaum's heirs have previously lost in court trying to recover this artwork.

They claim they have lost for the very technical reasons that the HEAR Act was designed to prevent.

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