Minister supports law change on looted art

Jewish Chronicle 27 July 2005, 27 July 2005
By Rachel Fletcher

Governmental commitment to help restore art taken by the Nazis to its rightful owners has been welcomed by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

Speaking to the JC this week, Culture Minister David Lammy stressed his belief that “national museums and galleries which are subject to legal restrictions on the disposal of any items within their collections should have the power to transfer items out of their collections where the item in question has been looted during the Nazi era.

“In the very special and limited circumstances that apply because of the terrible things that happened during this era of our history, we should change the law.”

Current legislation leaves museums and galleries in an impossible position when looted artworks are identified in their collections.

Looted art commission co-chair Anne Webber declared that “Nazi-looted art cases are unique moral claims, for which restitution is the only solution. The commission has been advocating this policy since 2000, at which time the government first stated its support for legislation.”

It was the commission which initiated a landmark High Court hearing over four looted drawings from a Czech-Jewish lawyer, Dr Arthur Feldmann, who was murdered in 1939. The works were acquired in good faith by the British Museum, which wanted to return them. But the laws governing the museum precluded it from doing so. As an interim solution, the drawings could be returned to the family on loan.

The Spoliation Advisory Panel, established by the government to handle restitution cases, has also urged a law change.

Ms Webber said “the commission considers it essential that the legislation covers all public collections in the UK, and that it is enacted in the next Parliamentary session.

“It is over 60 years since these wrongs were committed. Any further delay will simply add to the pain of the families involved.”
 
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