Helping Track Progress: Signatories to Terezin Declaration
In 2009, the Claims Conference and WJRO, along with 47 nations, convened for the Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets. We submitted “Holocaust Era Looted Art: A World-Wide Preliminary Overview, Prepared by the Claims Conference and the WJRO,” recommending actions to address the challenges of Nazi-era looted art.
Five years after the Prague Conference, the Claims Conference/WJRO published a report on 50 countries showing that two-thirds of the countries that have endorsed international agreements regarding research, publicity and claims for Nazi-era looted art have done little or nothing to implement those pacts. See the section on Holocaust-Era Looted Art: An Overview of Worldwide Progress
Work with Individual Countries
The Claims Conference/WJRO works with governments and relevant Jewish communities in various countries to try to ensure a just, fair and simple process for claims for looted art and other cultural property in each country. Examples of past and current activities include:
Encouraged by the Claims Conference/WJRO, the Department of Canadian Heritage of the Government of Canada contracted with the Canadian Art Museum Directors’ Organization (CAMDO) to perform a survey of the state of provenance research in the country’s museums.
The Claims Conference/WJRO has held discussions with the Ministry of Culture of Croatia regarding the need for provenance research on collections in the country. The Claims Conference/WJRO is working with the National Library of Israel to catalog and identify all Hebrew and other Jewish-language books and manuscripts known to have been looted that are in Croatia, which lacks sufficient expertise in cataloging in those languages to be able to identify what the country has.
In cooperation with the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic, the Claims Conference/WJRO convinced the Czech Parliament to cancel a deadline for the return by the government of plundered artworks.
In March 2012, German authorities discovered artworks, many of which are suspected of having been looted by the Nazis, in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of Nazi-associated art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. However, the discovery was not made public until a German magazine broke the story in November 2013. Shortly afterwards, more artworks were discovered in an Austrian home of Mr. Gurlitt as well, bringing the total number of artworks in his possession to approximately 1,600.
The Claims Conference immediately led the public campaign for all the discovered works, including additional ones in Austria, to be made public and researched expeditiously in order to facilitate restitution of the works in the collection that had been taken from Jews. The Claims Conference also announced that it believed that numerous works in the collection are in its online database of art objects looted in France and Belgium. Finally, the Claims Conference demanded, and received, two appointments to the task force assembled by German authorities that is researching the provenance of the works. The “Schwabing Art Trove” Task Force is headed by Dr. Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, a former Deputy State Minister for Culture and Media and includes international and national art experts.
Claims Conference Task Force Appointees:
Agnes Peresztegi has more than 20 years’ experience researching Holocaust era property claims and advising non-profit organizations that represent survivors and heirs. Since 2001, she has been the Executive Director for Europe for the Commission for Art Recovery, where she pressed European countries to change how they identify and publicize potentially looted art and has worked on looted art litigation in numerous countries.
Sophie Lillie, who has studied art history and will soon complete her Ph.D. in modern history, has worked in Vienna since 2001 researching Holocaust-era looted art for private individuals seeking restitution, government bodies, and cultural institutions.
In the Gurlitt trove, 380 works have been identified as having been confiscated primarily from German museums by the Nazis as part of their campaign against “Entartete Kunst” or “degenerate art,” and 590 artworks are currently undergoing provenance research to determine if they were confiscated by the Nazis from Jews during the Holocaust. The latter group of objects is available online.
We are still pressing for Germany to establish a transparent and expedited claims process for these works, including for those for whom heirs cannot be readily identified. In cooperation with the World Jewish Congress, the Claims Conference is working with German authorities to strengthen German provenance research and restitution procedures in regard to looted art generally.
The Claims Conference is speaking to the German government about the need for broader provenance research, legislation changes, and establishment of an international commission concerning the large amount of looted cultural property that remains in German state institutions. In response, Germany has established the German Center of Cultural Property – German Lost Art Foundation.
The Claims Conference/WJRO is working with Hashava – the Holocaust Restitution Company of Israel to improve provenance research in Israeli museums and libraries.
In June 2014, the Claims Conference/WJRO helped to organize the Hashava International Forum on Holocaust Era Cultural Assets in Israel. A second conference is planned for June 2015.
The Claims Conference/WJRO is working with the National Library of Israel to catalog and identify all Hebrew and other Jewish-language books and manuscripts known to have been looted that are in countries without sufficient expertise in cataloging in those languages to be able to identify what they have. An agreement was brokered by the Claims Conference/WJRO between the National Library of Israel, the National and University Library in Zagreb, and the Jewish Community of Zagreb to catalog some 7,000 looted books that were transferred to the library of the Jewish Community of Zagreb, as well as other Jewish-language holdings in Croatia. A similar agreement was also brokered for cooperation between the National Library of Israel and the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine.
In cooperation with the Central Jewish Board (CJO) of the Netherlands, the Claims Conference/WJRO convinced the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science of the Netherlands to extend indefinitely claims for objects in the Netherlands Art Property Collection (NK Collection).
The Claims Conference/WJRO has publicly advocated the need for Poland to review not only those cultural items that were taken from Poland but also those objects that are in the collections of Poland’s museums and libraries. Assistance has also been given to the return by Poland to Greece of the Greek Jewish collections held in Warsaw.
In cooperation with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia, the Claims Conference/WJRO is working with the Serbian government on drafting a new law regarding heirless property that is expected to also cover communal and individual cultural property. Recommendations of the Claims Conference/WJRO have been published in Serbia in an article entitled “Restitution of Art, Judaica, and Other Cultural Property Plundered in Serbia During World War II.”
The Swiss Federal Office of Culture, encouraged by the Claims Conference/WJRO, conducted a survey on the state of provenance research in 551 Swiss museums and encouraged the cantonal and community museums, as well as federation museums, to examine their collections.
The Claims Conference is in discussion with the Kunstmuseum Bern in regard to its Gurlitt inheritance and its anticipated commission for provenance research.
The Claims Conference helps support the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal (NEPIP), a searchable online registry of objects in American museum collections that changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era (1933-1945). As of March 2015, 175 museums are participating in the database, which is maintained by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).
The Claims Conference/WJRO has surveyed U.S. Museums regarding their adherence to the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the Guidelines of the American Alliance of Museums, and has voiced concern over the reluctance of the AAM to use its accreditation of museums to enforce adherence to its Guidelines. See section on U.S. Museum Survey.
The Claims Conference/WJRO is currently engaged in discussions with the U.S. Department of State, the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Alliance of Museums and others in regard to how to best implement the Terezin Declaration provisions on looted art and ensure opportunities for all claims to be reviewed on the facts and merits, whether through the court system or otherwise.
Work with Associations of Jewish Museums and Libraries
The Claims Conference/WJRO has been working with the Association of European Jewish Museums (AEJM), the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), and the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) to ensure that Jewish museums, archives, and libraries fully participate in provenance research and restitution efforts and to ensure that there is proper training for those who will conduct provenance research.
Calling Public Attention to Issues of Looted Art
The Claims Conference helps support exhibitions related to looted art, such as “Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker,” presented by the Jewish Museum of New York, and the “Auktion 392” touring exhibition presented by the Ben Uri Gallery at the London Jewish Museum of Art.