AJC Berlin Urges German Government to Prioritize Return of Nazi Looted Art

Nov 10, 2013, 09:25 ET from American Jewish Committee

BERLIN, Nov. 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Deidre Berger, director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute, is urging the German government to launch a concerted effort to restitute art stolen by the Nazi government from its rightful owners. Her call for action, in an interview with the online German newsmagazine Fokus, comes in the wake of the discovery in a Munich apartment of more than 1,400 paintings and artworks confiscated or purchased under value by Nazi officials. Most of the artworks are believed to have belonged to Jewish owners.

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Berger suggested that the German Parliament establish a special commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the works of art, much of which was modern art deemed "degenerate" by the Nazis. During Nazi rule, officials confiscated hundreds of thousands of works of art, keeping them for private collections or selling them via select dealers to earn hard currency.

Despite declarations by Allied occupation authorities deeming the thievery to be a crime against humanity, as well as the 1998 Washington Principles on looted art calling for restitution on a voluntary basis of moral justice, the legal situation in Germany regarding ownership of the paintings remains unclear.

"The entire legal situation must be reviewed," said Berger. "It is a disgrace that laws are still in existence that justify injustice. Undertaking this review would be the right signal to send, given the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht."   

Berger also called for photos of the discovered paintings and artworks to be made accessible immediately on the Internet to help former owners identify their property.

Given the advanced age of Holocaust survivors "it is incomprehensible that a single art historian has been working for several years to identify more than 1,400 artworks without this information being made public," said Berger. "Valuable time has been lost."

Munich law enforcement officials located the paintings nearly two years ago in the apartment of an art dealer, and took them to a secret location. German officials have refused to comment on the reasons for the secrecy shrouding the investigation.

The restitution of stolen art remains an open chapter, according to Berger, who called the discovery of the paintings a great opportunity to address the issue. Despite declarations of good will in Germany about investigating the provenance of all works of art in public institutions, little has happened in past decades.  

"The task can no longer be left to the museums," Berger told Fokus. "Similar to the ways in which the federal government coordinated negotiations on compensation for Nazi slave and forced labor, it needs to coordinate measures to determine ownership of all works of art in German museums."

The Berlin office of AJC, the global advocacy organization, played a key role in revealing the extensive list of German companies that were engaged in slave and forced labor during Nazi rule. "Holocaust restitution is an ongoing, unfinished task and the recovery of stolen art works is one important matter that still needs attention."

SOURCE American Jewish Committee