WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — World War II ended 75 years ago, but Jewish families are still trying to claim back property that was taken from them.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday about whether Germany and Hungary are immune from lawsuits brought by Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
“The Nazi government set out explicitly to destroy the German Jewish people by taking their property,” said Nicholas O’Donnell, the attorney representing a group of German Jewish heirs.
The group is asking the nation’s high court to help them reclaim or be reimbursed for a valuable art collection their ancestors were forced to sell during Adolf Hitler’s reign.
“Congress has specifically identified the Nazi’s looting of art from the Jewish people as genocidal,” O’Donnell told the justices.
But the attorney representing the German government argued it’s nothing more than a property rights case.
“It would be bizarre for courts to decide if a state has violated human rights law by murdering its own nationals just as a jurisdictional hook to hear a property claim,” said Jonathan Freiman.
The justices heard many of the same arguments in the similar case against Hungary, but the type of property was different.
“Hungary took everything the plaintiffs owned, including possessions necessary to survive, such as shelter, clothing and medicine,” said Sarah Harrington, the attorney representing the Hungarian Holocaust survivors.
Harrington argued they should be able to sue for compensation in U.S. courts, but the attorney representing the Hungarian government said it’s not a U.S. matter.
“The merits of this case should not be decided by an American judge applying American law in Washington, DC,” said Gregory Silbert.
The U.S. government sided with the foreign countries.
“If we can bring these kinds of actions here, well, so can these other countries do the same and accuse us,” said Justice Stephen Breyer. “What about Japanese internment?”
Justices Breyer and Elena Kagan questioned how these cases could impact U.S. foreign relations.
“The state department is expecting the courts to do the difficult and sensitive and, some might say, dirty work for you,” Kagan said.
Both decisions are expected sometime next year.