Sidebar by Courthouse News

Culture Wars and the Fight Over Looted Artifacts

May 24, 2022 Courthouse News Season 2 Episode 7
Sidebar by Courthouse News
Culture Wars and the Fight Over Looted Artifacts
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Priceless artwork and tribal artifacts have made their way across the globe through several means, some legitimate and others … not so much.

While we rely on these objects to tell us about history, tradition and culture, the way they end up in our communities sometimes raises questions about what should happen to them, where they rightfully belong and how the legal system can get them home.

Congress has passed laws regulating what should happen to items taken from tribes without their permission, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The water gets muddier internationally though, as political drama takes center stage.

In this episode, we take a trip across the globe to see how this issue plays out in different communities.

The Founders Museum in Barre, Mass. is grappling with how to properly return moccasins, dolls and clothing from the Wounded Knee Massacre to the Lakota, which lost nearly 300 people in December 1890. Down the street, the Worcester Art Museum uses art once stolen by Nazis in World War II to show the difficult task of getting back Richard Neumann's renowned art collection. We also break down communications between Austria and Mexico over a storied feathered Aztec headdress.

Special guests:

This episode was produced by Kirk McDaniel. Intro music by The Dead Pens.

Editorial staff is Bill Dotinga, Sean Duffy and Jamie Ross.

[Intro Music]

Nina Pullano: Holding on to the stuff that humans have created and collected over time is a vital part of preserving and learning about ancient cultures, honoring traditions and keeping the past alive. But ancient artifacts can grow legs – stolen from their ancestral communities, especially during times of war – they then travel the world around thanks to looters and art dealers, sometimes traveling salesmen looking to make a quick buck. That raises questions about what should happen to these items, where they belong and the complex legal processes involved in getting them back to their origins. I’m Nina Pullano, one of our co-hosts here at Sidebar, a podcast from Courthouse News. Up first in this episode, reporter Dan Jackson will tell us about a museum in Massachusetts that’s grappling with what to do with items like moccasins, dolls and clothing – that allegedly came from Wounded Knee. Congress has passed laws regulating what to do with items that were taken from tribes without permission, but how those laws are implemented is a little more complicated, and that nuance means even museums that say they’re intending to stick to the law can be implicated in federal crimes. Here’s Dan to break it all down.

[Classical Music]

Dan Jackson: The Founders Museum in Barre, Massachusetts sits at the top floor of a red-brick library sitting on the edge of a quintessential New England town green. There’s the obelisk commemorating the veterans from the Civil War. A white-steepled congregational church. Inside the library, there are displays of minerals and stuffed birds. If you’ve made an appointment, you can walk up the steps to the top floor of the building to a side room and you’ve arrived at the entrance of a museum that has stirred up quite the controversy in the last few decades for a claim that was made when the museum was first established in the late 1800s. Well, I wanted to take you on my tour of the room, but the volunteers that opened the museum did not want to be interviewed. They showed me a sign that said the museum does not allow photography, videography and audio recording. So instead, let me describe it to you. The first thing you see are rows of wooden cabinets with doors of paned glass. It looks like the stacks of an old library. The high walls are painted light blue. In the first few cabinets, stuffed with items, you can see stone tools, arrow points, ax heads, taken from the area farmland. In another, an armful of swords carried during the Revolutionary and Civil wars. But then, you see them. 

[Flute Music]

DJ: The headdresses with feathers, the moccasins, items with bead and quillwork. Dolls. In a case in the corner is a shirt made from what looks to be canvas stained to look like buckskin, its tassels frayed. It is a ghost shirt, worn by an adherent of the Native American Ghost Dance movement in the late 1800s, who believed wearing such a shirt would protect them from harm. When it first opened, this New England museum made quite an attention-getting claim. It said some of the items in this room once belonged to the Native Americans who were at the massacre of Wounded Knee, the massacre where in December 1890, U.S. troops in South Dakota killed more than 250 individuals from the Lakota tribe. For years, the museum has faced questions about what it would do with the items. Some have accused the museum of violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.  

Ann Meilus: I’ve had death threats. I've had, I've been offered bribes. We had a gentleman that was claiming to be part of the tribe, he turned out to be an art dealer. He really wanted the ghost shirt. My name is Ann Meilus, and I'm currently the president of the Baron Museum Association. I've been dealing with this for almost 30 years now.

[Plucky Music]

DJ: According to Meilus, the museum’s collection of Native American items began with a traveling shoe salesman named Frank Root who was once a direct competitor to P.T. Barnum. Root collected Native American items and then took his collection on the road.  

AM: And his schtick was that he claimed that the items were from the cache of Wounded Knee to draw people out, to view the items, because at that time the massacre at Wounded Knee was fresh and people were curious about the West. In reality, we don't know if any of the items are from the Wounded Knee. We know that over 30 tribes are represented in the items in the museum. A lot of them were mislabeled to, essentially, stir the imaginations of the Victorian era people. 

DJ: But for Native Americans visiting the museum, who can recognize the motifs of their tribe in the items, the museum can invoke a different experience. In April, Manny Iron Hawk of the Lakota tribe was part of a group that viewed the items.  

Manny Iron Hawk: Well, for me, it was pretty somber. I said a prayer before I went in there. And we smudged before we went in there and this, where they kept these items, it was a pretty, pretty dark room. We had to use our cellphone flashlight to see in there. 

DJ: Iron Hawk’s relatives were at Wounded Knee. And growing up, he would hear the story passed down through the generations.  

MIH: That story, my mother had, my grandma. She would tell the story, and she would begin to cry and as I listened, you know, I guess it kind of hooked me into that, that story, too. And I didn't want to do that to our children because healing has to begin somewhere. And we need to start that as soon as possible.

DJ: For Iron Hawk, part of that healing, that confrontation of the historical trauma, meant the return of the items that belonged to the victims of the Wounded Knee massacre. 

MIH: Yeah, all the artifacts that belong to the Wounded Knee, those are certainly the ones that need to come home and whether we bury them or our traditional way is to burn the items and to this day, we still practice that, because upon a death of individuals, the relatives’ family, they usually burn all their items. 

DJ: That practice, Iron Hawk said, was to help usher the individual into the afterlife. Iron Hawk and his wife Renee Iron Hawk — who had recently been voted as secretary of HAWK 1890, a society for the survivor descendants of Wounded Knee — made the last-minute decision to visit the museum. Renee Iron Hawk said even if some of the items did not come from the site of the massacre, there were some items that were deeply personal, deeply religious and items that may contain human remains. She said she saw pouches with beadwork on them, designed to look like turtles and lizards. They were amulets intended to hang above where a child slept. Those amulets typically contained the child’s umbilical cord. 

Renee Iron Hawk: Those are the beliefs that we have that if we did that for our babies, we were blessing them for throughout their life when we will do those umbilical parts and those animals. So, when I see those, you know, that's a personal item that has someone's umbilical cord in it. That's a part of your body. And that’s a very important part of a child or baby, an infant’s body because it was once connected them to their mother. So, you know that it just, it bothered me that it was on display like that. Yeah, I got kind of overwhelmed a bit, so then I had to sit down for a little while because my heart started hurting.

DJ: In the backdrop of all this is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, also known as NAGPRA.  

Shannon O’Loughlin: So, Congress found that Native American bodies and our cultural and religious items were treated differently than everyone else. And this disparate treatment helped to create a remedy. My name is Shannon O’Loughlin, I'm a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and I am the CEO and attorney for the Association on American Indian Affairs. Which is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, it was passed on November 16, 1990, and it sets forth an administrative process where federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funds in any amount with Native American collections, are required to inventory, summarize and consult with tribes for the sole purpose of repatriating those ancestors’ remains, their burial belongings, cultural patrimony and sacred items back to those nations where they were taken from. So, these items that we're talking about, and these Native American bodies, were removed from tribes without any consent, without any authorization from the peoples whom they belong to. 

DJ: According to O’Loughlin, in the years following the passage of NAGPRA, museums that have gone through the process of inventorying their collections pursuant to the law have made discoveries about their collections by working collaboratively with the tribes. But still Native American tribes continue to face issues, such as items being shipped out internationally to skirt NAGPRA protections. And the act itself needs some clarification, O’Loughlin said.  

SO: I think all issues stem from this idea that native peoples are people from the past, and they themselves don’t exist today. And that somehow, because of history and how the United States has dealt in federal Indian law and policy, that for some reason it’s okay to take and sell those items where it wouldn’t be okay perhaps with other items. You wouldn’t take the Betsy Ross’s American flag that she sewed herself and put it out in the art market. That is a piece of cultural patrimony that belongs to all the people of the United States. These items are similar for their native nations, they belong to the peoples of those native nations and should not be sold, but for some reason we think it’s okay still to objectify native peoples.

DJ: And how does the museum in Barre fit into all of this? This is where it gets interesting. According to museum president Ann Mielus, because the Barre museum does not receive any federal funding, it falls outside NAGPRA’s reach. However, it decided in March to begin the process of complying with NAGPRA voluntarily, a decision that required unanimous consent, according to its bylaws.  

AM: We've wanted to go and comply with NAGPRA, but we had one holdout that in our group that did not want to comply with NAGPRA because he did not want to lose anything. But he has since passed away, so now the group has decided that we will do a NAGPRA inventory. And if we need to repatriate anything, that's, as you know, under the neck of regulations, we will. We are voluntarily going to comply, but we don't have to comply because we don't receive any federal funding.

DJ: The museum, Mielus said, is made up of volunteers and they only have about $300 in its bank account, but it is in the process of getting quotes from experts and seeking grants to conduct a review. Mielus said the museum wants to deal directly with the Lakota tribe, but she said, the tribe did not have a tribal council for several years. To complicate matters, Mielus said many of the items in the old museum were treated with arsenic as a preservative, so the doors on the cabinets remained shut to keep the chemical contained. But according to O’Loughlin, the Barre museum is a known violator of NAGPRA and she is concerned that at very least, the museum is trying to delay repatriation. At one point, the tribes associated with the Wounded Knee massacre sent the museum official letters identifying individuals that could help with a repatriation process. And then there’s a question whether the library, who O’Loughlin says received federal funds and is thus under the purview of NAGPRA, originally held the items and then transferred the items to the Barre Museum Association, a nonprofit that was organized in 2009.  

SO: That could be seen as illegal trafficking of Native American cultural items. And there, it could be more than just a civil penalty. This could be a federal crime that was committed to try to protect the collection.

DJ: After my interview with O’Loughlin, I reached back out to Mielus because I wanted to hear what she had to say about this alleged letter and the matter of when the nonprofit was formed. However, she was unavailable to comment because she had a commitment that took her away from her job and the museum for several days. I reached out to another museum board member, who has not yet replied.  

[Music Break]

NP: The people overseeing these collections of ancient items aren’t always so willing to work with the indigenous communities trying to reclaim what once belonged to their people. In this next segment, we’ll look at the international and political drama that’s ongoing between Austria and Mexico. It centers around one storied piece of history: a feathered headdress.

 DJ: In 2020, right as Covid hit, a museum in Austria was touting its recently completed renovations. Here’s a clip from the city of Vienna’s YouTube channel.

YouTube Clip: By showcasing the collection of seafarer James Cook, the famed feathered headdress of a Mexican priest and many other priceless artifacts, the Weltmusuem Wien is one of the most important museums of ethnography in the world.

 DJ: That famed feathered headdress? It’s been the subject of years of bickering between Austria and Mexico.  

[Guitar Sounds]

Cody Copeland: And as political as it's become almost to a comical extent, it actually started over 25 years, almost three decades ago, kind of by a grassroots campaign by some indigenous activists who were living in Austria. And so they started to campaign for the return of this headdress. So, I'm Cody Copeland. I've been living in Mexico for the last six years and working as Courthouse News' Mexico correspondent since September of last year. 

DJ: That feathered headdress in Vienna-- 

CC: There are people who say that it belonged to Aztec emperor Moctezuma and that he gave it to Hernán Cortés, the conquistador, in 1521 to try and bribe him to stop his colonization of Mexico. And they say that it was taken to Spain and from Spain got to Austria. Austria denies this, it says it came from a German collector and that it did not actually belong to Moctezuma. They say that they got it through means not as nefarious as Mexico claims. So, that initial request by sitio was declined. And Austria has ever since then, has kind of almost been like mocking about it. Even the Austrian foreign minister in ’97 said ‘Well, the copy you have in Mexico is prettier than the original, so just be happy with that one.’

DJ: Throughout the years, presidents of Mexico attempted to have the headdress returned.  

CC: The issue was picked back up in 2020 by the current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, he sends his wife Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller to Austria, to ask that the piece be loaned to Mexico for festivities commemorating 200 years of independence, 500 years since the beginning of the conquest, and 700 years since the founding of Tenochtitlan, which is the Aztec city that the Spanish took over and eventually became Mexico City. So yeah, that's kind of where we are today. I was actually able to get in touch with Gutiérrez Müller and she said that she was also met with derision by Austrian officials, she met with the president and the curators of the museum. And so, her request was also denied. 

DJ: And part of the reason why Mexico cares so much about this headdress that’s hundreds of years old? 

CC: Well, the indigenous part of Mexican identity is very important. Back in the 20th century, the creation of this cultural identity as a mestizo people or like a mixture of Europeans and indigenous Mexican peoples became, it's actually kind of like a political push, but also it's just, it's just a very important part of Mexico's cultural identity. So, being able to have those pieces back in the country, where people can go see them themselves, is really important to Mexican people in general.

DJ: Weltmusuem Wien holds hundreds of items relating back to Mexico’s early history. For instance--  

CC: Some of the like, most important ones are yes, those deerskin codices that detail the political and religious histories of the Mixtec people which are from the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. So, yeah, these explain things like their creation myths, where their people came from.

DJ: But for now, it’s likely the feathered headdress will remain exactly where it is.  

CC: And in 2012, there was a binational group of restoration experts who examined it and determined that it cannot be moved. That it's, I mean, this thing's 500 years old, made of quetzal feathers, beautiful iridescent blue-green quetzal feathers, but they said the vibrations that would be caused in the moving of it would cause like 100 years’ worth of damage, so the thing would just fall apart. They say now that it can’t even be moved one floor in the museum, so putting it on an airplane just can’t be done. 

DJ: In the meantime, Austria said it would return a column fragment from a Mayan temple. And at very least, the Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico said the column could help them better understand that particular temple.  

CC: The interesting thing is that the anthropologist I spoke to, Sandra Rosenthal from Mexico's Metropolitan Autonomous University, she actually said to say that the headdress must be repatriated is like a simplification of a very complex situation. Because not only because of the condition it's in, but also in terms of where it would be repatriated. Because what she said that kind of surprised me was that you know, even returning a piece like that or any of these pieces that are in Austria to Mexico City, it's like, well perhaps the people who are from this Mayan town in Yucatán or Campeche, they wouldn’t even consider that a repatriation of it because poor people from states like that, it might even be impossible to make a trip to Mexico City to see stuff like that.

NP: One of the most notorious mass lootings in history occurred during World War II when Nazis looted an estimated 20% of the art in Europe. In this last segment, Dan takes us to another museum in New England, where curators are using previously stolen art to tell the story of how one family’s collection traveled around the world. Many of the efforts to return those pieces that were looted to their homelands have been successful, but the work isn’t done. And, as you can imagine, the laws and policies surrounding the recovery are pretty complex. In the United States, these questions have gone up to the highest court, but there’s a whole lot more to the process. Here’s Dan again.

DJ: This year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a dispute over an impressionist painting sitting in Spain. The painting was Camille Pissarro’s “Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain.” In the painting, impressionist brushstrokes dance down a Parisian street, past a fountain, carriages and bare trees. Near the beginning of World War II, Lilly Cassirer, who was Jewish, gave up the painting in order to escape Germany and the Nazi regime. In the ensuing decades, the painting ended up in a foundation controlled by the Kingdom of Spain, on display in a museum there. Cassirer’s family filed a lawsuit seeking to get the painting back. In order to bring a lawsuit against the Kingdom of Spain in the U.S. courts, the Cassirer family had to invoke the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, arguing that because the painting was taken by the Nazis, a court in the U.S. could hear the suit. But then came another question: Which law should apply to the case? This choice-of-law question was an important one. If the law of Spain applied to the case, then the foundation would win and the painting would remain in Spain. In an opinion delivered April 21, Justice Elena Kagan said that because the Cassirer family’s suit did not make any federal claims, then the Kingdom of Spain could be treated like any other party before the court. Choice of law, riveting stuff, right? The Pissarro is just one painting of the objects and art looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust, and decades later we’re still dealing with that fallout. It’s hard to describe the scope of the looting. One estimate says under the leadership of failed art student Adolf Hitler, the Nazis took about 20% of the art in Europe. In November 1945, Robert H. Jackson, on leave from serving as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stepped into the role of the chief prosecutor for the U.S. at the Nuremberg trials. In his opening statement sketching out the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the leaders of Nazi Germany, Jackson described how the Nazis shipped railway cars worth of art.  

Robert Jackson: But we will show you that looting was not due to lack of discipline or to the ordinary weaknesses of human nature. The German organized plundering, planned it, disciplined it and made it official just as he organized everything else, and then he compiled the most meticulous records to show that he had done the best job of looting that was possible under the circumstances.

DJ: And as an example to learn how one Jewish family was caught up in all of this, I headed over to the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. For much of 2021, the museum has put on an exhibit looking at one Jewish art collector titled “What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann and the Search to Get it Back.” As visitors entered this exhibit, they were greeted with a wall-length black-and-white photo of inside of Richard Neumann’s house. A couch and some upholstered chairs were laid out in the center of the exhibit. The walls held about a dozen paintings. This space, according to Claire Whitner, curator for European art for the Worcester Art Museum, invoked a time when the art hung in Neumann’s home. This space was telling the first part of a story. 

Claire Whitner: Introducing our visitors to Richard Neumann, his family, the kind of person he was, as an industrialist but also an art lover, talking about what Vienna was like at the time with this explosion of public museums and the fact that if you were an art lover, this was really a time to be alive in Vienna.  

[Piano Music]

DJ: Before World War II, Neumann’s collection consisted of more than 200 pieces of art, many of them Italian Baroque and Netherlandish paintings, the old masters. Austria had recognized almost 30 of them as having landmark status, paintings that Neumann would arrange to have the public see. Then, Whitner said, the second half of the exhibit details--

CW: We talk about what happens first in Vienna, and then in Paris. And then we created a truly massive timeline of the road to restitution, but to really trying to kind of convey how complex this was.

DJ: As the Nazis took over Austria, they inventoried Neumann’s belongings. When he fled to Paris, Whitner said, Neumann was prevented from exporting six of the items because they were placed on a central registry listing out national treasures. They ended up in a museum a couple streets away from his home in Vienna. In France, Neumann sold his paintings, likely to survive, Whitner said. Around this time, agents took advantage of Jewish families desperate to escape by buying their art for well below market prices. Some of Neumann’s art ended up in the hands of agents collecting art for the Fuhrer-Museum, a massive art museum planned by Adolf Hitler himself that never came to be. Eventually, those paintings ended up in French museums, Whitner said. Following the end of World War II, Neumann tried to get back his paintings at the Vienna museum. While a restitution commission in 1952 agreed with him that, yes, he sold the half-dozen paintings under duress, he ultimately could not recover them. Austria said his paintings were national treasures and denied an export license. A couple years later, Neumann died. The situation began to change in the late ‘90s. With the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998, a group of countries set out to agree on some non-binding principles that could help resolve questions surrounding Nazi-looted art, principles such as archives should be accessible to researchers and just and fair solutions should be sought when art was found to have been taken by the Nazis. In the years following, Neumann’s family filed claims for their art. Other pieces bubbled up on the art market. The exhibit is over, but Whitner said the Worcester Art Museum plans to incorporate that art, on loan from his family, into the galleries. Altogether, from a collection of more than 200 objects, Neumann’s family has only recovered 16.  

[Music Break]

DJ: One estimate says there are about 100,000 pieces of Nazi-looted art still missing. And it’s a difficult task to hunt them down.   

Wesley Fisher: The culture of the art world is that the museums is, first of all, you protect your collection. And then the second aspect of this is that the art world is done, to a large extent, in secrecy. This is not like the purchase of automobiles where they get registered, and you can follow it. This is very different. That’s a large part of the problem. My name is Wesley Fisher, I'm director of research for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, otherwise known as the Claims Conference, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, often known as WJRO. We primarily are trying to sponsor provenance research, the research on the history of ownership in all countries, and then also to make sure that in every country there is a claims process whereby people can in fact claim such property. I should note to you, that it's not just individual claimants there is also communal, Jewish cultural property that was taken and therefore that's also part of this. 

DJ: According to Fisher, theft is an understudied aspect of the study of genocide, the taking an attempt at cultural destruction. Today, potential heirs of Holocaust victims face a patchwork of international laws and policies if they seek the return of their family’s art.  

WF: Getting these countries up to speed is important and often the Internet plays a role in this. So, for example, the Netherlands and now Belgium, more recently, have actually put up the claims that were made after the war onto the Internet. So, you can see what it is that people were looking for after the war. Now, this is not a full listing, because the full listing would, it doesn't include the people who were murdered to such an extent that they're not making claims. But it is important. And that is, that's a major step forward. 

DJ: Meanwhile, records of France’s postwar claims, although digital, can only be accessed by visiting its archives. The country does not have a law on its books that allows museums to deaccession art in its holdings, but the United Kingdom does have a law that allows its museums to restitute the objects.  

WF: It’s a very checkered situation. So far as Russia is concerned, Russia’s initial law under Yeltsin in the 1990s actually did call for a mechanism to deal with those items which were taken by the Germans from their victims. But that was then overrun in various amendments by the Putin government, which essentially nationalized them. 

DJ: And it’s not just the archives. For years, heirs seeking to recover art taken during the Holocaust have faced legal barriers.  

Jennifer Kreder: Your chances in court are not great. And it costs a lot to bring these cases. Well, my name is Jennifer Kreder, and I am a professor at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University. And I also have a solo firm and I'm about to join of counsel, the law firm of Rottenberg Lipman and Rich.

DJ: Kreder has worked on negotiations and cases involving Nazi-looted art as an attorney. Those cases—

JK: They're really complicated, right, you need genealogists to prove that the person claiming is in fact an heir, there is a legal process that you need to go through, maybe over in Europe, right, in order to make sure that that's solidified, you have to prove that this is the same exact artwork and not some, you know, other version of it. If it's work on paper, a lot of times those weren't specifically inventoried, even, you know, for a long time. So, I think that that impacts the settlement positions of the parties in negotiating them. And although the Washington Principles and the Terezin Declaration say that these claims should be resolved on the facts and merits, that's not a binding law. So, that the passage of time is always a huge barrier for all these cases.

DJ: Before the Nazi regime took items from Jewish families, Kreder said, it often inventoried their possessions, and then took everything, down to the napkins.  

JK: And the art part of it sort of, you know, in the upper crust polite society, I think that a lot of people turned a blind eye to that, in part because they don’t want to return it. And a lot of times the justification given to that for that is, you know, oh, we’re all better off if you see this art, it speaks to all of us. And that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you get to steal it from somebody, you know, and a lot of times these individual paintings are portraits of somebody’s family member. 

DJ: During World War II, a group of individuals from allied countries worked to preserve art across Europe from the destruction of war. Following the war, the Monuments Men and Women tried to trace art back to individuals, but the task was too large.  

JK: And so, the ultimate responsibility for getting things back to the owners was then turned back to the individual nations, and they completely dropped the ball. So, that's why we still have this problem today, because they didn't do enough to seek out who owned things back then. And yet, that issue was being held against the claimants today, you didn't do enough to find your work. 

DJ: Kreder said that some American museums have filed preemptive lawsuits against potential heirs making claims to old family paintings, seeking declaratory judgments to sniff out the claims – exactly the opposite of what was supposed to happen under the Washington Principles, she said. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Republic of Austria v. Altmann that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act applied retroactively, allowing Maria Altmann to seek the return of six paintings by Gustav Klimt.  

JK: When it came out, I mean, those of us who were following it, it was really exciting. It was, it was the idea that you know, these things can really be recovered. And then for many, many years, it was just loss after loss after loss, except for one claim to a relatively minor painting where the claimant won.

DJ: But that string of losses changed this April with the Supreme Court’s decision over the legal fight over the Pissarro. 

JK: Seeing news headlines about a Supreme Court case concerning Nazi-looted art at least puts it back on everybody's radar, and so maybe more people will take it more seriously, think more deeply before they buy things with a potential gap. You know, I’ve heard some wonderful stories about, for example, after American soldiers passed away and their kids go up in the attic, and they find little relics and they return them. And what a wonderful thing to connect people back with their cultural heritage and something that belonged to their ancestors. So, even if legally much of the property can’t really be reclaimed in court, I think that more people knowing about it will lead to more people doing the right thing. So, I’m an optimist. 

NP: While these reckonings with the past are still unfolding around the world, some stories are only just beginning. Russian soldiers have reportedly stolen 200 gold pieces from a museum in Ukraine – Scythian artifacts dating back more than 2,000 years, many of which were given to the Greeks, according to an interview with a museum caretaker in the New York Times. Those artifacts have huge symbolic value, and as war broke out, things just moved too quickly for the museum to prepare. In a war that has already seen thousands of casualties, the robbing of these culturally significant pieces can only add to the horror facing the people of Ukraine. And all of our hearts go out to those affected by the war, as do our prayers for peace. You can find more of our team’s reporting on ancient artifacts at our website, 

[Music Break]

NP: Hey listeners, while we have you. We’re collecting all your favorite jury stories for an upcoming episode. These can include stories from jury selection or moments that stood out while you were serving jury duty. Just record your story in a voice memo, include your name and location and email it to In the meantime, our next episode features reporter Amanda Pampuro, who will take us on a journey to Amache, a place where 10,000 Japanese Americans, immigrants, were forced to go during World War II, just a fraction of the more than 100,000 ordered to leave the West Coast. Amanda will explain how today's descendants and survivors return to the site to honor their memories. ‘Til then, take care, and thanks for listening.

[Outro Music] 



A Piece of Cultural Patrimony
A Simplification of a Very Complex Situation
The Road to Restitution