Articles

What Happens When American-Style Lawsuits Go Global

A shorter version of this article was published by Newsmax.

Suing is so American; others learn from us, including in the Intermarium, the lands between Black, Baltic, and Adriatic Seas. On occasion, the Three Seas region citizens even seek justice in American courts. Sometimes we sue at home in the U.S. to obtain a ruling in the Intermarium. Periodically, American plaintiffs file their grievances in the courts over there.

A while ago, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group sued the Russian government in New York because a Moscow museum refused to return precious religious artifacts, expropriated by the Soviet state, to the rightful owners. If memory serves, the plaintiffs sought a court injunction to put a lien on Russian property in the U.S. There was even talk about seizing Russian ships. In any event, the Russians caved and returned the religious objects to the rightful owners.

Yet, the court verdict is not always favorable because of the question of foreign jurisdiction. A few years ago, I participated in a property rights conference at the Holocaust Museum in Miami. One of the panelists from Texas shared an outrageous story of his Jewish grandfather from Berlin and his huge cabaret poster collection expropriated by the Nazis in the 1930s. The East German Communists inherited it. After 1989, the Berlin government refused to return the posters to the descendants of the original owner. At the time of the conference, neither American diplomacy nor law was able to see justice done.

Quite recently, the Supreme Court of the United States has heard a case regarding Holocaust reparations and Germany. In the 1930s, the Third Reich forced Jewish art dealers to sell their collections for peanuts to the Nazis. Now the artwork is worth $250 million. Germany refuses to return the valuables, yet our SCOTUS has sided with Berlin. The Supremes have ruled that, first, Germany enjoys “sovereign immunity,” and, second, the victims were German, and not American, citizens at the time of the theft. Thus, there was no “violation of international law.” The U.S., alas, has no jurisdiction.

Based upon similar reasoning, the SCOTUS dismissed a related case: “Republic of Hungary vs. Simon.”  It ruled it had no jurisdiction to compel the Hungarian state railways to pay compensation for the property confiscated from the survivors of Jewish deportations to the Third Reich’s death camps in 1944.

I have kept tabs on such issues as a matter of moral and professional interest. Almost twenty years ago in our Poland’s Transformation: A Work in Progress, I suggested that the best resolution of property restitution claims would be to settle with the individual heirs in the form of government bonds, in particular as far as real estate is concerned. Replevin law dictates that continuous residence for 20 years establishes ownership (in New York City it is 10 years). This tends to undermine the attempts to reclaim houses and other buildings by former owners and their descendants, since it has been 75 years since the end of the Second World War.

Last but not least, there are American-style defamation suits. I confess that I am part of one in Warsaw. A prominent leftist pundit called me Hitler, and one of his epigones unloaded on me as well with similar insinuations. I used to ignore attacks like this, for I love freedom of speech. However, my American family turned livid: we have a long list of relatives killed during the war, including prisoners of German concentration camps such as Auschwitz. No one should call us Hitler with impunity. So, we are suing. The pundit retracted his statement. The other suit is still developing in a usual protracted way.

Much more famously, in another case in Poland, where I am familiar with some of the parties involved, Filomena Leszczyńska, an octogenarian niece of a man defamed in an egregious case of historical malpractice, has just won her suit against two Holocaust scholars. The court has ordered two historians to apologize publicly for their cavalier use and abuse of sources as well as mistaking a Christian rescuer for a persecutor of Jews, which Israeli historian Daniel Blatman has pointed out twice (https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-no-poland-is-not-conducting-a-new-dreyfus-trial-1.9521111 and https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-an-exercise-in-historic-cherry-picking-1.9551241).

International media almost uniformly mischaracterized the case as an assault on the freedom of academia and a brazen attempt to cover up for “Polish guilt” during the Holocaust. However, in a way, the Polish case is similar to the lawsuit brought against Dr. Anna Hájková, a Czech historian teaching in England, who – based on exceedingly flimsy evidence – accused a Jewish concentration camp inmate of being a lesbian lover of an SS guard (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/dec/21/court-fines-historian-over-claims-holocaust-survivor-lesbian-affair). Hájková lost and was fined. No one has yet sued Anna Müller for her alleged lesbian fantasies among Poland’s political prisoners (https://www.iwp.edu/articles/2021/01/22/review-of-if-the-walls-could-speak-inside-a-womens-prison-in-communist-poland/), but that may happen, too.

Since post-modern academia often ignores facts in favor of theory, we shall witness more defamation suits in the future. On the other hand, restitution suits will continue to run into the insurmountable wall of the doctrine of state sovereignty. But, American-style suing is here to stay in the Intermarium.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, D.C., 25 February 2021