Claims Conference: Little progress made on looted Holocaust art

Despite pledges to find and return art looted by the Nazis found within their borders, little follow up action has been taken by the nations of Europe, Jewish groups find.

September 11, 2014 22:19
2 minute read.
nazi looted art

Museum visitors study "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," a 1907 painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt at a special exhibition of Klimt paintings looted by the Nazis during World War II. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Despite pledges to find and return art looted by the Nazis found within their borders, little follow up action has been taken by the nations of Europe, two Jewish organizations focused on Holocaust restitution asserted in a joint report this week.

According to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, “15 years after the first international agreement regarding restitution of Nazi-era looted art, most countries have made little progress toward returning stolen cultural items to their rightful owners.”

Two-thirds of countries that have pledged to become active in this sphere have failed to do so and in fact have “done little or nothing to implement those pacts,” the groups said on Wednesday after a study of some 50 nations.

There have been positive developments since the 2009 Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference but only four – Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands – have made what the Claims conference and WJRO deem to be “major or substantial progress toward implementing the [1998] Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.”

Very few countries have successfully fulfilled their obligations under the code of ethics for museums of the International Council of Museums agreement requiring them to determine ownership of the items in their collections, the report stated.

“As we approach 70 years since the end of World War II, and 15 years since the Washington Conference, action and restitution must take the place of talks and agreements,” Claims Conference executive vice president Greg Schneider said in a statement accompanying the report.

“Governments, museums and dealers must research their collections, publicize their findings and establish a claims process for recovering family treasures.

We have identified the issues at hand and initiated programs to foster research and restitution.

Those who have the art objects must work to return what is not rightfully theirs,” he continued, urging the establishment of an International Association of Provenance Researchers.

The issue of looted art has gained prominence in the media recently due to the discovery of a large collection of looted works in the home of elderly German recluse Cornelius Gurlitt.

Authorities stumbled upon his trove of paintings and drawings by the likes of Chagall, Toulouse- Lautrec and Picasso in 2012 after a routine check on a train from Switzerland turned up wads of cash, triggering a tax inquiry.

The 2014 movie the Monuments Men brought the issue further into the mainstream consciousness, telling the story of Nazi Germany’s massive and systematic looting of Europe’s cultural patrimony during the war years.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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