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Saturday, 21 October, 2000, 05:26 GMT 06:26 UK
Nazi loot is won back
Mosiac
Art stolen by the Russians will be harder to get back
By Nick Thorpe in Budapest

In Hungary, the grand-daughter of a Jewish baron and art collector has won a long legal battle with the Hungarian state to prove her ownership of artworks looted by the Nazis.

The municipal court in Budapest has ruled that ten of the twelve painting belong legally to Martha Nierenberg, an American-Hungarian.

The case is expected to encourage other claimants, many of the Jewish, to claim back paintings from museums and galleries throughout the region.

painting
This painting, looted by Nazi troops, has now been returned to its rightful owner

The ten paintings include works by El Greco, Van Dyck and Cranach the elder.

Plundered

Valued at about $5m, they are just a small part of the famous Herzog Collection assembled by Baron Mor Herzog in the early part of last century.

When he died in 1934 the collection was divided between his three children and was plundered by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Some pictures reached Berlin, where they were stolen for a second time by the Red Army.

Those paintings are still in Russia. But the pictures which Martha Nierenberg, Baron Herzog's grand-daughter has now won back, were smuggled westwards at the end of the war.

Intercepted by American soldiers they were returned to Hungary and declared state property in 1954.

Important precedent

Although she has now proved her ownership, under Hungarian law she will not be able to take them out of the country.

The verdict has already been declared an important precedent by Jewish organisations.

But the paintings taken to Russia are the hardest to retrieve.

A recent Russian restitution law severely limits what works can be reclaimed, but under international law objects stolen from people persecuted for their religious or political views, must be returned.

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See also:

17 Feb 00 | UK
Hope for Nazi loot victims
04 Jun 99 | UK
Stolen Nazi art returned
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