WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court refused Monday to become involved in a dispute over four Hitler watercolors and a photographic archive from pre-war Germany.
The justices left in place a lower-court ruling in favor of the Army, which seized the items decades ago.
The origins of the case begin in Germany in the 1930s, where the Hoffman family owned 2.5 million photographs in a collection "comparable in size to AP or UPI," the family's descendants say in a petition to the Supreme Court. The photos were published worldwide.
Due to Heinrich Hoffman Sr.'s friendship with Adolf Hitler, the family obtained thousands of photos of "Hitler and the German and Nazi personalities of their those times."
Heinrich Hoffman Jr., who received the archive as a gift in 1937, stored most of the photos in a castle before the war moved onto German soil.
The U.S. Army took over the castle as an officers' billet, and sent the photo archive to the War Crimes Commission in Nurnberg.
The Hoffmans, father and son, were arrested in May 1945, though Hoffman Jr. was eventually released.
The U.S. Army also took over the Hoffmans' substantial art collection in a second castle, and shipped it to what was called the "Munich Collection Point."
While Hoffman Sr. languished in prison, the Army sent unclaimed works of art from Munich to Wiesbaden, where they were supposed to be returned to their owners by the new German civil government.
"In 1950, the commander of the Army's European contingent of the Historical Division toured the Wiesbaden Collection Point and 'picked up' the four Hitler watercolors for 'addition to the Army's collection,'" the family's petition said.
The four paintings were then seized under the terms of the Hague Treaties and shipped to Alexandria, Va.
Hoffman Sr.'s daughter wrote to the U.S. government and asked, in German, what had happened to the watercolors. The government denied knowledge, the petition said, even though the Army Historical Division had the paintings.
However, author Billy Price eventually received permission to publish photos of the works.
Ultimately, the daughter, other family members and Price -- Hoffman Jr. had signed over rights to the photo archive to him -- filed suits in federal court in Texas to recover both the photos and the paintings.
Four separate civil cases in Texas were consolidated, and the case moved to U.S. District Court in Washington. When a federal judge and ultimately a federal appeals court ruled for the government, the family and Price asked the Supreme Court for review.
Review was denied Monday in a one-line order.
(No. 1-1111, Hoffman et al. vs. United States and Ashcroft)