Dame Helen Mirren, the British actress best known for playing spy Victoria Winslow in RED and RED 2 and Inspector Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, testified before the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee today on the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act.
During World War II, the Nazis murdered millions of Jews. They also robbed them. The Nazis stole artwork from occupied nations as well as their own citizens. NBC News reported that "roughly one-fifth of European art was stolen by Nazis during the war."
"Art historians estimate that tens of thousands of pieces of artwork were lost when the Nazis looted Jewish families' personal heirlooms and other holdings during the war."
Much of that artwork was never recovered. They disappeared or were sold on the black market. Some turned up in museums. Some wound up in private collections. Holocaust survivors had no idea where to look for their stolen property. In the rare cases they could locate their property, they were generally unable to get it back. With Holocaust survivors reduced to the shirts on their backs, it was next to impossible to prove ownership of stolen artwork and reclaim it legally.
The HEAR Act is intended to make it easier for the original owners of Nazi-plundered artwork, or their rightful heirs, to recover their property, art treasures of incalculable value, some of which were family heirlooms for generations. The HEAR Act will extend the statute of limitations for recovering artwork stolen by the Nazis. If the act passes, people seeking to reclaim stolen art will have six years from the time they find where the art is, who possesses the art, or that they have a legal right to the art, according to Washington, DC Patch.
Dame Helen Mirren spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee today to urge them to vote for the Holocaust Expropriation Art Recovery Act. She spoke against the injustice of not only the Nazi theft of art but the lack of concern for the rightful owners of the stolen art.
"The very act of Nazi expropriation was not only unjust but it was inhumane. And yet, still today, it seems there are still some out there who lack the will to recognize the victims and their families as rightful owners."
Helen Mirren is neither Jewish nor the owner of stolen art. However, in 2015 the Academy Award-winning actress starred in Woman in Gold as Maria Altmann. The movie was based on the true story of Altmann, who fought a decade-long legal battle with the government of Austria to reclaim a painting of her aunt.
The HEAR Act is bipartisan. The legislation was introduced by Republican senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas and Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Chuck Schumer of New York. Sen. Cruz was quoted by the Jerusalem Post explaining what "never forget" meant in the 21st century.
"The phrase 'Never forget' is more than a slogan. 'Never forget' means working to right all the terrible injustices of the Holocaust, even if many decades have passed."
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, also addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to the problem of Jewish art stolen by the Nazis as a "dirty secret" of the art world.
"What makes this particular crime even more despicable is that this art theft, probably the greatest in history, was continued by governments, museums and many knowing collectors in the decades following the war. This was the dirty secret of the post-war art world, and people who should have known better, were part of it. In many cases, legal barriers like arbitrary statutes of limitations were imposed on families that had not been aware that their father's painting was hanging in a private home or state museum."
Helen Mirren spoke of justice for the victims of Nazi plundering.
"Greed, cruelty, self-interest and domination will always be with us; it's an easy option. Justice is much more difficult, so much more complex. But we all dream of justice."
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
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