How do other (Western-European) countries deal with looted art as a consequence of the Nazi regime?
Since laying down the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art in 1998, a number of countries have created a structure for claiming art looted by the Nazis in the Second World War. France, Austria, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands established a restitutions committee.
In 1999 the National Museum Directors’ Council in the United Kingdom established a committee headed by Sir David Neuberger, which concentrated on monitoring the investigation of ownership history and advising museums that conduct provenance research, and aimed at charting art looted by the Nazis. In 2003 and 2004 this committee published reports on recovered works with a lacuna in their provenance between 1940 and 1945. A consultable database for these objects was made.
In Germany, provenance research into art seized by the Nazis has been conducted since 1998 by the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg (the central German service institution for lost cultural assets and the documentation of cultural assets). Its primary objective is to make transparent the provenance of museum collections. The Koordinierungsstelle administers the database of ‘lost art’ and supports museums with a provenance research module, checklists, and a code of ethics for ownership of art property. Additionally, in 2008 Germany instituted the Arbeitstelle fur Provenienzrecherche/-forschung (Bureau for Provenance Research and Inspection), which is charged with distributing funds for provenance research to public institutions and providing practical support in researching ownership history. In 2012 Germany increased public financing for provenance research to 2.4 million Euro per year.
France established transparency in its collection of recuperated art property from Germany under the title Musées Nationaux Récupération. In 1949 France declared that these recuperated works – which were originally in private ownership – were indefinitely not the property of France, and would remain available for claims by the original owners or their heirs. France is now launching an active investigation of the MNR. Since 1999 France has also had a Restitutions Committee, the Commission pour l’indemnisation des victimes de spoliations intervenues du fait des législations antisémites pendant l’Occupation (CIVS). It determines matters of compensation for the victims of looting as a consequence of the anti-Semitic legislation during the Occupation in the broadest sense of the word, including art property.
In 1997, Belgium established a Study Commission Jewish Assets (Studiecommissie joodse goederen). This commission aimed to investigate the fate of the Belgian Jewish Community’s property that was plundered, surrendered, or abandoned during the Second World War. The Study Commission looked into how looting took place during the Occupation, as well as the measures taken after the war by the Government and the private sector to restore the stolen property to or compensate its owners. The work carried out by the Study Commission was a reason for Belgium not to institute a Restitutions Committee or establish a national provenance investigation.
In Austria, too, 1998 was an important year for investigation into ownership: in that year parliament passed a restitution law that mandated how museums and private individuals were to handle collections that had been looted during the National Socialistic regime or have a lacuna in their provenance between 1938, the year when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and 1945. Museums in Austria conduct provenance research on their own authority and in their own time. The reports are available on the website of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism.