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Treasure to stay in Germany

March 21, 2014

A German panel has said a medieval treasure trove at the center of a long-running ownership dispute should stay in Germany. Heirs of Jewish collectors seeking to recover the trove say the sale was made under Nazi duress.

Image: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum/Jürgen Liepe

Disputed art to remain at Berlin museum

The state-backed Limbach Commission said Thursday said that it saw no evidence of "a persecution-induced forced sale" and that the price was normal "on the art market after the world economic crisis" following the 1929 stock market crash.

As a result it said, "It can therefore not recommend the return of the Guelph Treasure to the heirs of the four art dealers and any other former co-owners.“

The dispute centers on the Guelph Treasure, or "Welfenschatz" in German, a collection of more than 40 pieces of gold, silver and gem-studded Christian relics believed to be worth between 180 and 200 million euros ($248 and $276 million).

The heirs of the Jewish collecters who sold the trove say their ancestors had no choice but to sell the artifacts to the Nazi government in 1935 for less than their value.

The commission, made up of eight people, is a decade-old panel created to help resolve restitution claims and while its decisions aren't binding they do carry strong moral weight.

The trove is the largest publicly owned collection of German ecclesiastical art and is kept in a museum of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin.

Germany's culutre minister, Monika Grütters, said that although the German government often favors restitution, in this case she "hopes that the Jewish heirs will accept the recommendation of the commission."

Lawyers for the claimants said "the decision causes us consternation and is incomprehensible for us and our clients as well as for those at home and abroad who know the details of the history of the Guelph Treasure."

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation welcomed the panel's "carefully considered recommendation."

"In all previous restitution cases, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation has been able to agree on a solution with claimants, but not in this case," it said.

The recommendation comes amid the ongoing case of a trove of long-lost artwork found in a Munich apartment that was allegedly looted by the Nazis during World War II.

hc/ccp (AFP, AP, dpa)

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