Boost for victims of Nazi art thefts

The Jewish Chronicle, 29 June 2007
Leon Symons

The German city of Nuremberg has launched a surprise appeal to try to find the rightful owners of art that was looted during the Nazi era.

The London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe welcomed Nuremberg’s action and called on other authorities in Germany and elsewhere to follow suit.

Its co-chair, Anne Webber, said: “There are still more than 100,000 pieces of looted art in German public collections alone which have not been identified or their owners traced and we would hope this initiative by Nuremberg will encourage others to follow.”

In a letter to the Board of Deputies, Dr Dominik Radlmaier of the Nuremberg City Archive said it has launched “Project Lost Art” to check the provenance of its “extensive” art collection that “came into its possession under very dubious legal circumstances during the 1930s and 1940s”. At the heart of the project, he said, are “art and cultural objects, including paintings, graphical works, furniture and craftworks which the Jewish citizens were forced to hand over” and which were subsequently acquired by the city.

“The aim should be the return of the identified objects to their rightful heirs”, once entitlement to them has been established.

Staff have been checking city archives, Bavarian state archives and the German national museum. But Dr Radlmaier admitted there were “big gaps”, which was why he launched the appeal.

Ms Webber said: “The commission works pro-actively with a number of museums and libraries in Germany, Austria and elsewhere to identify looted works of art. This has resulted in more than 3,000 items being returned.

“In fact, only this week we returned five paintings to a family in Vienna.

“Just because works of art are in Nuremberg does not mean they originated there. They could have come from other towns or even countries.

“Anyone who believes they are missing property, not only from Nuremberg but anywhere else, should get in touch with us.”

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “This is a timely reminder that the issue of looted art is still very much a live one and the provenance of individual works of art, even after 60 or 70 years, can still be highly questionable.

“This heightens our conviction that the government must be extremely careful not to allow any possibility of looted art being displayed with impunity in this country as a result of the legislation currently progressing through Parliament.

“Every possible assistance must be given to allow the history of such art works to be exhaustively checked and for legitimate claimants to be able to recover.

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