British bill to smooth way for return of Nazi-looted art
CBC, 29 July 2005Proposed legislation in Britain will soon make it easier for artwork looted by the Nazis to be returned to its original owners.
The country's Department for Culture, Media and Sport has begun consultations on the proposed bill, which would be limited to items taken between 1933 and 1945.
The legislation was inspired by a situation at the British Museum, which had wanted to return four Old Master drawings to the family of Czech lawyer Arthur Feldman. The museum is stopped from doing so by the British Museum Act, which prevents it from dispersing anything in its collection.
The museum bought the drawings for the equivalent of 9.45 pounds, worth 250 pounds in today's money, in 1946. The four pieces are estimated to be worth 150,000 pounds now.
The drawings were stolen by the Nazis from Feldman, an enthusiastic art collector, when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939. Feldman and his wife were killed by the Nazis.
Descendants of the Feldmans submitted a claim for the art in May 2002 but the British High Court ruled the museum would be breaking the law if it returned the art. The government agreed to take action to change the law.
"It's been over 60 years since these wrongs were committed, " said Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which represents the Feldman family. "Any further delay would add to the pain of the families involved."
The Commission is a non-profit foundation set up in 1999 by the European Council of Jewish Communities and the Conference of European Rabbis to oversee issues relating to Nazi-looted art.
Culture Minister David Lammy has said he is expediting the legislation.
"Because of the terrible things that happened during this era in our history, we should change the law. And we should do so as soon as we can," wrote Lammy in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle Thursday.