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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
US ruling over 'looted' Nazi art
Maria Altmann
Maria Altmann says the paintings were stolen by the Nazis
The US Supreme Court has ruled that Austria's government and national museum could be sued by a woman trying to recover alleged looted art.

California resident Maria Altmann says the paintings by Gustav Klimt were taken from her family by the Nazis.

Mrs Altmann, who fled Austria after the Nazi invasion, filed a US lawsuit four years ago over six Klimt paintings.

She maintains the Klimts, on display in the Austrian Gallery and worth $150m, were wrongfully taken from her uncle.

The ruling allows Mrs Altmann to pursue the case.

But some members of the US Supreme Court opposed the ruling, saying that it injected great prospective uncertainty into relations with other countries. The vote was split 6-3 in favour of the 88-year-old Mrs Altmann.

Move welcomed

The Nazis seized the possessions of Mrs Altmann's wealthy Jewish family soon after they came to power in Austria in 1938.

The six paintings by the noted Austrian impressionist include a portrait of Mrs Altmann's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.

US soldiers with looted art
More than 600,000 pieces of art were stolen by the Nazi regime

But the Austrian authorities say they have rightful ownership of the paintings because Adele Bloch-Bauer bequeathed them to the gallery before her death in 1925.

The Bush administration wants such World War II disputes settled through diplomatic channels not the courts.

But the ruling was welcomed by Jewish leaders, who hope to be able to settle such cases whilst some of those directly affected are still alive.

"The court has taken a major step forward to make possible finally, 60 years after the war ended, some measure of redress for victims of the Holocaust whose property was stolen and never returned," Charles Moerdler, an attorney for The Austrian Jewish Community, said.

"It is both symbolic and practical. It is literally a godsend."

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