U.S. suit over Nazi art theft rebuffed

Feb. 7, 2011 at 1:11 PM
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NASHVILLE, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Federal judges have blocked a Nashville man from suing Germany for the Nazi looting and sale of his uncle's art collection.

Appeals Judge Boyce Martin wrote last week that letting retired Professor Fred Westfield, 84, proceed with his case "would largely eliminate the protections of sovereign immunity" and the American legal system could turn into "a haven for airing the world's disputes," The (Nashville) Tennessean reported.

Walter Westfeld (the spelling was later changed) was a Jewish art dealer in Germany in the 1930s. His nephew's suit states he tried to send his collection to Nashville, where his brothers had taken refuge, but the Nazis seized the art and later auctioned it off. Westfeld died in Auschwitz.

Westfield cited an exemption in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for commercial activities that take place in the United States or have a direct effect there to sue Germany for the Third Reich's actions. But the appeals court found the events did not have a "direct effect" in the United States.

Legal scholar Eric Jaffe said allowing such claims could encourage a wave of lawsuits against foreign governments being filed in the United States.

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