Gurlitt Trove Investigation Must Intensify, Transparency Increase

With the Bern Kunstmuseum’s announcement that it will accept ownership of the Gurlitt artwork collection, the Claims Conference calls on Germany to intensify and expand its investigation of the artworks so that Nazi-looted items can be identified and restituted.

The Claims Conference welcomes the readiness of the German government and the Kunstmuseum Bern to restitute all looted artworks to legitimate owners or their heirs in accordance with the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the Terezin Declaration.

However, the German government, which will continue to research potentially looted items, must intensify its efforts and increase the transparency of its investigation into items’ provenance (ownership history).

In the year since the Gurlitt trove discovery was revealed, the Claims Conference has led the call for full transparency regarding the collection and the research conducted on it.  With two appointments to the Task Force researching the collection, the Claims Conference has pressed for:

  • Complete publication of the collection’s contents.
  • Publishing the full business records of Hildebrand Gurlitt, the Nazi art dealer whose son held the collection, which are needed for complete provenance research and to know where and how he obtained and sold artworks.
  • Reporting on what is known about the provenance of each piece as the information has come to light and publishing the sources consulted for each item.
  • Immediate restitution in cases where the heirs are known.

The German government and the Kunstmuseum, having acknowledged the right course of action, must now immediately implement all of the above.

“Today’s positive announcement will hopefully be the beginning of a new chapter regarding this collection. The actions to be taken, according to the agreement, go much further than anything done thus far,” said Julius Berman, Claims Conference President.

“We look forward to far more transparency, as restitution can only be accomplished with full and complete information about the artworks. The world is watching and this is the last chance to get it right – to return stolen family treasures to their rightful owners, 70 years later,” said Greg Schneider, Claims Conference Executive Vice President. 

The investigation into the Gurlitt collection is far from complete and the process has been shrouded in secrecy. The Task Force that began its work in May 2014 has not invested sufficient resources to properly identify all looted art in the collection.

Specifically, the Claims Conference notes that: 

  • The German government has still not revealed how it has determined which items in the collection may have been looted from Jews.
  • The Task Force has yet to publish any results of its work, leaving the public and potential heirs in the dark about researched items.
  • The Task Force has not publicized the sources it is consulting in its provenance research.
  • All members of the Task Force researching the works have not been given equal access to documents and sources that could help them determine provenance (ownership history), nor have they been consistently informed of research results.

The Claims Conference expects that the Kunstmuseum Bern and other Swiss and German museums will research their own collections, in accordance with international principles that both countries have endorsed.

November 24, 2014