A bill to facilitate the return of Nazi-looted artworks to their original owners or heirs passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
The House passed the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act, or HEAR Act, on Wednesday. It must still pass the Senate.
The bill would extend the statute of limitations for the stolen artwork to six years from the date that the art in question is identified and located, and from when the claimant has shown evidence of possession of the art.
In some previous cases, defendants were able to avoid restitution because states had statutes of limitations as short as three years.
"With the House’s approval of the HEAR Act, Holocaust victims and their families are one step closer to a clear legal path to recover art stolen by the Nazis," Ronald Lauder, chairman of the Commission for Art Recovery and president of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, said in a statement. “These cases should be decided on the facts and merit, not hindered by legal technicalities. This important legislation will further this objective and help ensure that justice for Holocaust survivors and their families is achieved."
Lauder called on the Senate to also "quickly pass" the legislation and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The HEAR Act was introduced in the Senate in April by Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, along with Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. It was introduced in the House in September by Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
In June, testimony was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittees on the importance of the act. Among those testifying was British actress Helen Mirren, who said that “restoring physical parts of lost heritage to Holocaust victims and their families is a moral imperative.”
Mirren said she became steeped in the issue while playing Maria Altmann in the 2015 film “Woman of Gold.” Altmann battled the Austrian government for years until 2004, when she recovered works stolen from her family by the Nazis.
During World War II, the Nazis stole valuable belongings, including art, from Jewish families. Much of the looted property was not returned after the war, and heirs of the families have faced lengthy legal battles to recover their family belongings.