While some celebrate such settlements as a satisfactory compromise, others say they only highlight the need for a proper restitution law or similarly comprehensive solution. The Washington agreement has created hope for late justice among many heirs, further heightened by surprise discoveries like the one in Munich. As a result, there is also greater pressure on Germany to come up with a restitution system that is acceptable to all.
"In the last five years, Germany has been taking steps towards dealing with this issue. But I don't think even they realized how significant and how widespread the problem is," said Clarence Epstein of the Max Stern Art Restitution Project at Concordia University in Canada. "They have not addressed the private and commercial concerns that we all have, wherein these works in private collections are protected by German law. And that's really the problem."
Others say that settlements are only a second-best option.
"Restitution means the physical return of the object," Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project in Washington, said in a phone interview. "There is no other definition for it. Restitution is not compensation."
Toren, the 88-year-old heir to collector David Friedmann, echoed that sentiment when asked about the painting of two horsemen he used to look at as a boy:
"I want my painting back, and soon," he told Reuters.
Given the terrors the original owners faced, and the fact that the art grab happened in the context of a genocide, Masurovsky warned against sending the wrong moral signals. The message of the current laws, he argues, is that plunder pays.
"The crime of plunder is a crime that people can get away with," he said. "It'll pay for itself. The thief can get good title after a certain period of time in Europe."
For the victims, however, the lost paintings are inextricably linked to memories of terror and persecution. After the war, most Holocaust survivors were busy trying to rebuild their lives in a new country. They wanted to forget about the past. One of the Flechtheim heirs, for example, has said that he only found out about his art-loving great-uncle when he discovered some silver cutlery in his emigrant parents' kitchen in London. It was engraved with an A, B, and F, for Alfred Flechtheim and his wife, Betty. Betty committed suicide in Berlin when notified of her imminent deportation to a death camp.
It was often only much later that families began to open up, confront painful memories and seek late justice. This makes restitution about much more than a transfer of goods. During a recent interview with Britain's BBC radio, 88-year-old Ernest Glanville described the day the Nazis came into his family's home in Vienna.
"They came in, said ‘Heil Hitler,’ went around the apartment, and took what they could," he said. This included pictures from a collection of beautiful pieces by Gustav Klimt and others. "Then somebody came up and dragged us down to the street to clean it."