ICOM Recommendations concerning the Return of Works of Art Belonging to Jewish Owners 14 January 1999

During its last meeting, held in Paris in December 1998, the Executive Council of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) discussed the issue of works of art confiscated from Jewish owners during the Second World War and kept in museums or public collections.

According to ICOM's Code of Professional Ethics, the Executive Council wished to reiterate that In all activities, museum employees must act with integrety and in accordance with the most stringent ethical principles as well as the highest standards of objectivity

Concerning the confiscation of Jewish works of art, the Executive Council of ICOM made the following recommendations to museum professionals around the world:  

  • To actively investigate and identify all acquisitions of a museum, especially those acquired during or just after the Second World War, that might be regarded as of dubious provenance (notably objects once belonging to Jewish owners and stolen, looted or removed forcibly). 
  • To make such relevant information accessible to facilitate the research and identification of objects of doubtful provenance by potential rightful owners or their heirs. 
  • To actively address and participate in drafting and establishing procedures, nationally and internationally, for disseminating information on these objects and facilitating their rightful return. 
  • To actively address the return of all objects of art that formerly belonged to Jewish owners or any other owner, and that are now in the possession of museums, to their rightful owners or their heirs, according to national legislation and where the legitimate ownership of these objects can clearly be established.

    Created in 1946, ICOM is the international organisation of museums and professional museum workers. Composed of 15 000 members from around the world, ICOM is devoted to the promotion and development of museums and the museum profession.

    In 1986, ICOM adopted a Code of Professional Ethics that every museum professional agrees to respect upon joining the Organisation. This Code, now translated in more than 20 languages, lays down precise rules governing the acquisition and de-accessioning of collections, and personal responsibility towards the collections, the public and the profession.

    The Executive Council is ICOM's governing body. It is composed of 10 members elected triennially and chaired by Alissandra Cummins (Barbados), President of ICOM.

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