New Book Tells the Full Story of Nazi-Looted Art Disputes

Author Nicholas O’Donnell’s "A Tragic Fate — Law and Ethics in the Battle Over Nazi-Looted Art" explores the historical, ethical and legal consequences of stolen art
Press Release
June 19, 2017

Boston, MA – June 19, 2017 - Disputes over fine art looted by the Nazis has received renewed attention the past twenty-five years. While some of those disputes have been resolved through negotiations, what about those cases where the parties do not agree?  This new book published by Ankerwycke Books is the first comprehensive study of the legal battles in the United States over Nazi-looted art. 

Author Nicholas O'Donnell, a veteran attorney and litigation partner at the international law firm of Sullivan, has assembled the legal and historical background of looted art from the Third Reich to the modern era. A Tragic Fate puts in context the continuum from the Nazis’ first legislation against Jews to the legal principles that have determined the outcome of these ongoing court disputes. 

The Nazi looting of art and cultural property from Jews in Europe was unprecedented, ranging from a massive and organized plunder by the government for the benefit of German museums, to individual thefts by opportunists and Nazis. When the war ended, the Allies enacted a series of far-reaching laws and regulations to undo seizures of property from Jews. Yet, that effort did not extend to finding the individuals from whom the art had been taken, or their heirs. For decades, there was little attention and even less action around seeking to account for looted art.

This changed in the 1990s as the Cold War drew to a close, when new scholarship and attention culminated in the international Washington Conference on Nazi-Era Assets in 1998 and the announcement of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. These principles, and the ethical guidelines from museum associations, changed the perspective of the conversation on the need to find “fair and just solutions” for the victims of Nazi looting and their heirs.

Yet inevitably matters arose where there was no negotiated solution, and claimants turned to the courts of the United States. A Tragic Fate explores what has happened. Reviewing for the first time every such case to be litigated in America, Mr. O’Donnell analyzes the strategic, tactical—and just as importantly ethical—choices that the claimants, collectors, museums, and foreign countries involved have made over the course of these debates. A Tragic Fate combines the human stories behind the court cases with legal analysis of the outcomes that will be a resource for readers ranging from seasoned practitioners in the field to historical scholars to the general public. Other scholarship has looked at individual or small groups of cases, but A Tragic Fate is the first compilation of the whole story.

Nicholas M. O’Donnell is the leader of his firm’s Art and Museum Law practice. He represents collectors, dealers, auction houses and museums in a wide array of areas, ranging from copyright advice, to World War II restitution litigation, to museum governance, to commercial transactional and dispute representation. He is also the editor and primary author of the Art Law Report. Mr. O'Donnell is Vice Chair of the International Bar Association’s Art, Cultural Institutions and Heritage Committee, and a member of the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association. Shortly after A Tragic Fate went to press, as counsel for claimants to the famed Guelph Treasure in Berlin, he secured the first ruling in history finding jurisdiction over Nazi-looted art claims against Germany in a U.S. court

For more from AMAZON on A Tragic Fate, click here.

About Sullivan

Sullivan is a leading corporate law firm advising clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to emerging businesses. With more than 175 lawyers in Boston, London, New York and Washington, D.C., the firm offers services in a wide range of areas, including corporate finance, banking, trade finance, securities and mutual funds, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, tax, real estate and REITs, private equity and venture capital, bankruptcy, environment and natural resources, climate change, renewable energy and water resources, regulatory law, and employment and benefits.

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