Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, faced with two bills rooted in the Nazi era, has signed one and vetoed the other.
With hundreds of legislative bills on his desk and a looming deadline, Schwarzenegger on Thursday night signed into law a bill benefiting descendants of Jewish art collectors, whose paintings were taken by the Hitler regime.
The law, which applies to art, cultural, historical and scientific artifacts looted during the last 100 years, extends the statue of limitations for initiating recovery lawsuits from three years to six.
In addition, the countdown doesn’t begin until the former owner or his heirs first discover in what museum, gallery or private collection the disputed art is located.
Likely to be affected immediately by the new law is the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which is being sued by the daughter-in-law of a Dutch-Jewish art collector for the return of the diptych “Adam and Eve.”
Painted by the German artist Cranach the Elder in 1530, the work is valued at $24 million.
At the same time, the outgoing California governor vetoed a bill that would have required companies bidding for a piece of the state’s lucrative high-speed rail contract to disclose their roles in transporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
The legislation, which overwhelmingly passed the state’s assembly and senate, did not name a specific company. However, the bill’s chief sponsor, Woodland Hills Democratic Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, made it clear that the main target was the French national railway SNCF, or Societe Nationale du Chemins de Fer Francais.
In vetoing the Holocaust Survivors Responsibility Act, Schwarzenegger said he sympathized with victims of the Nazi deportations, but that the legislation “needlessly places the state in a position of acknowledging the activities of companies during that time.”
SNCF is now expected to bid for a major role in the $45 billion project, which is expected to zip passengers by 2020 from Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento at speeds of 220 miles per hour.
Blumenfield had charged earlier that SNCF had profited from its wartime collaboration, had never admitted its actions, disclosed its record, or be held accountable to victims.
In their defense, SNCF officials asserted that the French railway system was under German control during most of the war and that the Nazis executed about 800 railroad workers and deported another 1,200 for disobeying orders.
Following Schwarzenegger’s veto, the railroad company released a statement that “The atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during WWII were so horrific that we can never forget, nor should we. That’s why SCNF will continue its commitment to complete transparency of its WWII history, and will voluntarily comply , and even exceed, the requirements [the bill] would have mandated.”
Blumenfield pledged that he would hold SCNF officials to their promise.