08 November 2013


Press Contacts:
For HARP: Marc Masurovsky, (00) 1 202 255 1602 , plunderedart@gmail.com

For Immediate Release

Washington, DC, USA – November 8, 2013 - The Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP), based in Washington, DC, chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, has called on the German Government to immediately publish a full, detailed and complete inventory of the Cornelius Gurlitt art collection, and to set up a Commission to hasten the restitution process of Nazi-looted artworks to Holocaust victims and their heirs.

Following the disclosure by the weekly magazine Focus that the German Government has been in control of the Cornelius Gurlitt collection for several years, HARP, through its legal counsel, sent a letter to the German Ministry of Finance, Wolfgang Schäuble, calling on the German Government to immediately disclose a full, complete, and detailed inventory of this collection, and to establish a Commission to hasten the process of identification and restitution of any Nazi-looted artwork found in this collection.

“Any delay in implementing these steps would constitute grave injury to both the art market which requires that full and complete diligence be performed on any transaction, and to Holocaust survivors who have been looking for their artworks since 1945,” the letter states, which was also shared with Reinhard Nemetz, the Head of Augsburg State Prosecutor’s Office in charge of investigating Cornelius Gurlitt.

HARP is a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, and chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks require detailed research and analysis of public and private archives in North America. HARP has worked for 16 years on the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazi regime.  HARP was notably involved in the "Portrait of Wally" case, where a Schiele painting was seized by the U.S. Government, as well as in the restitution of an “Odalisque”, a painting by Henri Matisse, to the Rosenberg family.

19 October 2013

From Outside Neolithic Walls: It’s a Matter of Scale and Resources

Participants attending PRTP-Zagreb from March 10-15, 2013
Source: Holocaust Art Restitution Project
by Martin Terrazas, co-posting with ARCAblog

This is in response to several messages in the past weeks in retrospect of time spent in Amelia:

The multidisciplinary approach undertaken by both the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and Provenance Research Training Program is enriching and valuable. As can be understood in headlines regarding the fight over control of auction houses; the demands of the international art market require broad perspectives, for example, where an art historian is able to discuss accounting, archaeology, criminology, finance, history, and law, to name just a few examples, in passing conversation. The future of sound due diligence and reasonable provenance research depend on these individuals to engage in collaborative dialogues in an organic fashion; to make it second nature to elicit information and ask for assistance when problems arise. Globalized business, proper execution of deliverables, and dignified presentation is no longer optional; partnerships, as can be seen by recent headlines, can destruct in moments.

Taking a page from military vocabulary: VUCA is an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. What has been the largest lesson from both programs is to embrace VUCA. When a “poison pill” comes your way, it is essential not to recourse into territoriality, but rather to accept and learn how to improve operations. Realizing that leadership is not a prize, but rather an obligation to serve, is something that many have forgotten on the way towards comfort: When cultural property has unknown provenance or has been stolen, it hurts not only the responsible parties, but all involved in the market. Provenance research and art crime prevention is a means to an end, whether or not that be restitution and repatriation or seizure and legal sentence by respective authorities. There is no reason for delay regarding important issues such as who has proper title and what occurred at the scene of the crime. Instead of bureaucracy, individuals are owed personal honesty and scientific investigation. Cooperation between parties is essential.

In Amelia, there were discussions regarding the need for a focus in the international art market through financial statements and the fundamentals of business. For example, sometimes artists don't know how to balance a check book. While easy to criticize, even seasoned businessmen and businesswomen in the industry are guilty of this lapse of judgement. This is a lesson that is particular poignant, not only after Mr. Loeb's letter regarding management at Sotheby's, the current controversy at the Detroit Institute of Arts, changes with the Art Loss Register, Art Recovery International, and the Art Compliance Company, but also with news of China Poly's planned Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. At the end of the day, these are also business. Despite its cost on the balance sheet, protecting the consumer through investigation of provenance, is a priority. It will be more expensive in the long-run selling damaged goods.

Conversations in the past months have made it clear that there is not one definitive individual or source regarding data authority in the art market. There is no one single panacea, roughly phrased, for the ill that is looted cultural property without good provenance: Anyone to state differently ought to be questioned. (The discussion over SB 2212: United States Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act can be included in this reference. UNESCO has been notoriously absent in its opinion of the legislation.) A tide of transparency has been occurring in the art market whether desired or not. Maybe not in a year or a decade; given the current trends starting with past generations, it seems to be increasingly harder to hide and sell devalued illicit cultural property.

There is entrepreneurship and employment to be found in this trend. Inspiration can be seen in the activities of entities worldwide testing the market. Organizations such as the Arbeitsstelle für Provenienzrecherche/-forschung, Archaeology Southwest, ArtCops, ArtTactic, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association, Chasing Aphrodite, the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, the Cultural Policy Center, Elginism, theForschungsstelle "Entartete Kunst", the Getty Research Institute, the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, the International Foundation for Art Research, the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property,Illicit Cultural Property, Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg, the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Saving Antiquities for Everyone, the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, Trafficking Culture, the United States National Archives Archival Recovery, and the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte is but a minuscule list of the building repertoire of initiatives desiring to improve the industry. While change with business cycles will occur; social media statistics show that demand is strong.

To paraphrase Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter’s latest TEDx talk titled “Why business can be good a solving social problems”:

What separates this time from any other brief time on earth is awareness. 

Why are we having so much difficult struggling with these problems?
While clearly Mr. Porter referenced larger ills; the concept remains fundamental. The international art market, like all business, is charged to create shared value. Given the recent headlines, it is important to ask:

Is the international art market properly creating this value? 

If not, how can it be improved? 
What is each of us doing to make it so?

18 August 2013

Un exemple atypique de restitution

by Thierry Bajou, Conservateur en chef du patrimoine, Service des musées de France, Ministère de la Culture et de la communication
[Editor's note: It is not every day that an official from the French Ministry of Culture, in this case Thierry Bajou, submits an essay to a blog on plundered art. This particular piece sheds some light on the work that he does on behalf of the French government which he serves with great distinction and devotion--identifying, locating, and, whenever possible, restituting looted works and objects of art to their rightful owners. We are finally able to present this article in its original version--our apologies to those of you who do not read French. It is somewhat lengthy but enlightening.]
Au début de l’année 2009, une personne habitant le centre de la France s’est présentée au commissariat de police de son quartier pour informer les autorités d’une situation peu banale. Celle que nous appellerons ici Jane Doe pour préserver son anonymat, venait de bénéficier d’un héritage comportant un ensemble de vingt-six œuvres d’art dont la tradition familiale rapportait qu’elles avaient été abandonnées à la fin de la guerre par des officiers allemands qui avaient pris logis au domicile de son grand-oncle et de sa grand-tante. Sans doute un peu perplexe face à des œuvres qu’on lui indiquait comme ayant été volées puis abandonnées, la police locale a saisi l’Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic des Biens Culturels (OCBC) qui a lui-même contacté le ministère de la Culture et de la communication.

Jane Doe souhaitait se défaire de ces biens afin qu’« ils soient si possible restitués à leurs légitimes propriétaires » pour reprendre les termes qu’elle utilisait dans un mail qu’elle m’a adressé au Service des musées de France le 11 juillet 2010[1] ; elle y expliquait : « L'oncle et la tante de mon père, tous deux instituteurs […] ont hébergés pour une nuit, à la fin de la guerre, des soldats allemands qui rentraient chez eux. Pressés par le temps, semble-t-il, ils ont abandonné sur place ces tableaux, que l'oncle et la tante ont ensuite conservés pour je ne sais quelle raison (appât du gain?, difficultés de tous ordres à cette époque puis, ensuite, la crainte d'être accusés de recel ?). […] Quelques années avant sa mort, la tante, qui n'avait pas eu d'enfant, a confié ces œuvres à mon père en lui faisant promettre de ne pas les vendre de son vivant. Lui-même a adopté la même attitude et les a gardés jusqu'à son décès, survenu en août 2007 […] ».

On comprend l’embarras de cette famille qui a dû hésiter après guerre à mettre en avant le fait qu’elle avait hébergé des soldats allemands (mais il est douteux qu’elle ait eu le moindre choix) et de faire savoir qu’ils se retrouvaient en possession d’œuvres à la provenance présumée douteuse. Ils ont préféré le silence et, le temps aidant, l’aveu devenait de moins en moins possible…

Cet ensemble disparate d’œuvres de qualités très diverses, certaines étant même très médiocres portait des attributions volontiers fantaisistes ; il a donc fallu dans un premier temps les examiner afin de pouvoir tenter d’établir une connexion avec des œuvres spoliées.
Yver Adéle, Académies d'hommes nuns
Source: Google

A la lumière des seules informations disponibles sur leur provenance, il est difficile de déterminer si ces œuvres ont fait l’objet de véritables spoliations ou d’une simple rapine par les Allemands. La distinction peut paraître spécieuse mais, en droit français, la distinction n’est pourtant pas sans conséquence, puisque dans le premier cas ils seraient « restituables » au terme de l’ordonnance du 12 novembre 1943 portant « nullité des actes de spoliation accomplis par l'ennemi ou sous son contrôle »[2], tandis que dans l’autre, ils pourraient ne pas l’être, puisqu’il s’agirait d’une simple manœuvre délictueuse de droit commun, couverte aujourd’hui par la prescription en raison de l’ancienneté des faits…

Après vérification, il s’avère que six d’entre elles ont effectivement été spoliées et avaient été réclamées à la Commission de Récupération Artistique après guerre ; à ce titre, elles sont mentionnées dans le Répertoire des Biens Spoliés publié en 1947-1949[3]. Elles étaient réclamées avec d’autres œuvres par un monsieur Raymond Bollack [4] ainsi que l’a bien vu mon collègue Alain Prévet, des archives des musées nationaux.
Associer des œuvres à une personne spoliée est une chose ; identifier le ou les ayants droit actuels de cette personne en est une autre… Par un heureux hasard, nous avons eu la chance de faire ce lien. En effet, il se trouve qu’en date du 4 avril 2000, une personne avait écrit à la Direction des musées de France pour demander des informations concernant les œuvres citées par le Répertoire des Biens Spoliés et réclamées par un oncle maternel, Raymond Bollack[5]... Bien sûr, à cette époque, mes prédécesseurs n’avaient pas pu être en mesure d’apporter la moindre information à ce sujet. Dans son courrier, cette personne émettait des suppositions concernant la disparition des œuvres : « […] ce que je crois savoir, c’est que le contenu de l’appartement que mon oncle partageait avec ma grand-mère à Paris avait été mis à l’abri et retrouvé dans sa quasi-totalité après la libération. Ces tableaux faisaient-ils figure d’exception et avaient-ils été égarés ou volés au cours du transfert ? Se trouvaient-ils dans une petite maison de campagne que mon oncle possédait dans la région parisienne et dont le contenu fut sans doute pillé ou bien dans un coffre de banque ? […] ». Les circonstances précises du passage de ces œuvres des mains de leur propriétaire à celles des soldats allemands resteront sans doute sans réponse… Il en va de même de leur passage d’une maison de la région parisienne à leur abandon dans le centre de la France.

Reste la question du sort des vingt autres œuvres dont la provenance n’a pas été identifiée…
Hirsch Auguste, Enfant jouant avec un lézard
Source: Google

Aucune des autres œuvres en la possession de Jane Doe n’a pu être mise en relation de quelque façon avec des objets spoliés. La seule œuvre qui aurait pu à titre d’hypothèse être rapprochée d’une œuvre spoliée est une typogravure mesurant 70 x 85 cm, Fête champêtre au pied du mont Saint-Michel, d’après Emile Bayard, puisqu’une aquarelle de cette composition a été réclamée par M. Jules Emile Jorel auprès de la CRA. Mais cette dernière feuille était une aquarelle mesurant 47 x 60 cm. Il est donc impossible de les confondre l’une avec l’autre puisque technique et dimensions sont différentes[6]. …

Dans son mail du 11 juillet 2010, Jane Doe écrivait : « […] c'est dans un grenier, mélangés à d'autres dont je suis sûre de la provenance (portrait du grand-oncle par exemple !) que je les ai retrouvés. J'ai même ajouté des tableaux visiblement plus récents, mais que je ne me souvenais pas avoir vu accrochés aux murs de mes parents ou grands-parents ».

Il est donc vraisemblable que des œuvres accaparées par des Allemands aient été mélangées avec des œuvres qui étaient propriété pleine et entière de la famille du centre de la France. Nous avons donc décidé de proposer à cette famille de récupérer les œuvres restantes dont la valeur vénale est minime, pour ne pas parler de l’intérêt artistique.

L’une des questions qui se sont posées au Service des musées de France dans l’instruction de ce dossier était de déterminer s’il convenait d’inscrire ces œuvres sur les inventaires des MNR et s’il fallait faire, le cas échéant, une distinction entre les œuvres qui pouvaient être restituées et les autres. Après de longues réflexions, il a été décidé de procéder plus simplement et de n’inscrire aucune de ces œuvres pour ne pas formaliser ce dossier à l’excès.
Bodmer Karl, Deux études de tetes de sanglier
Source: Google
Ce choix repose sur plusieurs raisons. Les MNR sont en effet placés sous la responsabilité juridique du directeur des archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères qui en a confié la gestion, la conservation et la diffusion de l’information les concernant au ministère de la Culture et de la communication[7]. Il aurait donc fallut recueillir l’accord de cette tutelle juridique. En outre, au terme du décret du 30 septembre 1949 qui, mettant fin aux activités des institutions chargées des restitutions mises en place après guerre, institue les MNR, il est indiqué que ceux-ci sont « un choix des œuvres d’art retrouvées hors de France », ce qui n’est pas le cas de ces œuvres retrouvées en France. Il convenait enfin que les œuvres soient inventoriées par les musées nationaux ou les départements du Louvre concernées puis aussitôt radiées de ces mêmes inventaires. Il en aurait résulté un allongement très sensible du temps d’instruction de ce dossier et nous avons privilégié une attitude plus pragmatique afin de gagner en efficacité et rapidité en allégeant les procédures administratives.

Ce cas très particulier ne semble pas devoir être véritablement exceptionnel et il ne fait pas de doute que des œuvres partageant l’historique de celles que nous avons pu restituer, demeurent encore dans des familles. Comme le suggérait Jane Doe elle-même sur les motivations qui ont conduit sa famille à garder le silence après la guerre, les raisons en sont sans doute multiples, depuis l’appât du gain à la crainte de représailles. Certes, d’aucuns s’empresseront de les blâmer ; pour ma part, je préfère saluer la courageuse décision de Jane Doe qui a remis les œuvres à la police pour que la vérité puisse se faire jour, et certaines d’entre elles recouvrer leur véritable propriétaire. Grâce à elle, c’est tout une famille qui a pu revisiter son histoire et, en quelque sorte, se la réapproprier.

[1] A la faveur de la restructuration dont l’administration française a fait l’objet ces dernières années, l’organigramme du ministère de la Culture et de la communication a été modifié en 2009 et l’ancienne Direction des musées de France est devenue le Service des musées de France intégré à une Direction générale des Patrimoines.
[2] Cette ordonnance, qui traduit dans le droit français une déclaration signée par les Alliés à Londres le 5 janvier1943, fonde encore aujourd’hui les restitutions des MNR
(Cf. http://www.culture.gouv.fr/documentation/mnr/TJ/TJ-1943-11-12.pdf).
[3] Cet ouvrage est disponible en ligne dans son intégralité sur le Site Rose Valland
(http://www.culture.gouv.fr/documentation/mnr/MnR-rbs.htm), y compris les volumes ne concernant pas les œuvres d’art. Figurent également des volumes annotés par l’administration française indiquant le sort réservé aux demandes de restitution.
[4] Le nom de Raymond Bollack n’apparaît pas dans les documents de l’ERR ; il est impossible de déterminer si ces domiciles ont été vidés par la Möbel-Aktion.
[5] Cet homme (1891-1986), polytechnicien puis ingénieur, travailla dans une entreprise familiale de parfum proche de Chanel. Décoré de la Légion d’Honneur en 1918, comme son père Jules en 1915, pour son action pendant la guerre de 1914-1948, il se réfugia à New York en 1940 ; il ne devait revenir en Europe qu’en 1964 pour s’installer à Genève (Cf. document inédit rédigé en mars 2012 par un de ses neveux qui s’est penché sur l’histoire familiale à la faveur de la restitution des œuvres).
[6] La typogravure, Fête champêtre au pied du mont Saint-Michel, a été éditée en 1896 par Boussot, Valadon & Cie d’après Emile Bayard. La peinture correspondante a été vendue chez Michaan’s Auctions à Alameda, CA, le 12 juin 2006, lot n° 1029.
[7] L’explication réside dans le fait que les institutions mises en place après la guerre pour effectuer les restitutions étaient placées sous la responsabilité du ministère des affaires étrangères. Son service d’archives a donc été jugé comme héritier en quelque sorte de ces institutions dissoutes depuis longtemps.

Twice plundered: two paintings by forgotten artist Ilona Singer-Weinberger

by Misha Sidenberg, Jewish Museum of Prague, Czech Republic

Man in a Brown Suit (also known as Man with a Cigarette, 1928, oil on canvas, c. 55 x 46.5 cm, signed and dated LR: Ilona Singer / 1928) by an unjustly forgotten artist Ilona Singer-Weinberger (1905-1944/1945), adherent of the New Objectivity and a graduate of the "Vereignete Staatschulen für freie und angewandte Kunst" in Berlin where she studied between 1923-1925, was included to the Prague Jewish Museum’s collection on July 18, 1944.

"Main in a Brown Suit"
Source: Google
Property card for "Man in a Brown Suit"
Source: Jewish Museum, Prague
Like so many other objects, it had come from the "Treuhandstelle-Prag" depot, a “central collecting point” for property left behind by Jewish deportees from Prague and its immediate vicinity (the so-called Oberlandrat Prag) and subsequently “liquidated.” Provenance clues available on the paintings (see the transport number Dh 188 on the stretcher) confirm that the painting was confiscated from the private possession of Ilona Singer’s sister, Margit Hahn (1902-1944).  “Dh 188” is the number under which Margit was registered for a transport to the Theresienstadt Ghetto (German for Terezín, a transit concentration camp for Jews, located roughly 30 miles northwest of Prague).

Wood Framing
Source: Google
Margit, almost three years Ilona’s senior, a deaf-mute woman of stunning beauty, had a single child, Jan (1926-1944/45). After several repeatedly failed attempts to obtain an immigration visa to Shanghai, Margit and Jan Hahn found themselves trapped in Prague from where they were deported to Theresienstadt in July 1943. Once there, they joined Ilona and her husband Felix who had been brought there earlier that year in January from the town of Hodonín in Southern Moravia. The whole family, including Emilia, the mother of Margit and Ilona, née Rindler, and Felix’s parents, was murdered “nach dem Osten [in the East].” Emilia had already been deported to Treblinka in 1942. The rest of the family members were sent to Auschwitz. None survived the war. Five of Ilona’s paintings remain unclaimed in the collection of the Prague Jewish Museum. Three of those works had been confiscated from Ilona’s sister Margit, the two others from private owners. Two of the three paintings originally owned by Margit went mysteriously missing after 1967, only to resurface at the Dorotheum Prague auction house in 2008 and 2009.

The Man with a Cigarette was sold in 2008 despite protests by the Jewish Museum in Prague, which demanded its withdrawal from sale. According to the public auction records, the painting changed hands one more time in 2010, at an auction organized by Hampel Auction House in Munich.

A Boy with a Teddy Bear
Source: Google
The second painting, A Boy with a Teddy Bear, which had been offered for sale at the Dorotheum Prag in May 2009, was withdrawn from sale as a result of persistent efforts by the Prague Jewish Museum to stop the sale. However, due to insufficient legislation in the Czech Republic, the painting was returned to the consignor (the same person who only eight months earlier had sold the Man with a Cigarette).

Both paintings, the Man with a Cigarette and the Boy with a Teddy Bear, were stolen from the Jewish Museum in Prague after 1967 under dubious circumstances. The two stolen paintings remained in private hands until 2008 and 2009 respectively. Then they were offered for sale at Dorotheum Prague. At least one of the paintings –Portrait of a Man with a Cigarette – was sold even though the auctioneers knew that it had been confiscated from its rightful owner during the Holocaust. As for the Boy with a Teddy Bear, its present whereabouts are unknown.

Advice to the current owner(s) of the above-described two works by Ilona Singer: they are cultural assets looted during the Holocaust. They must be returned to the Jewish Museum in Prague so that it can facilitate their restitution to their rightful owners.

Ilona Singer-Weinberger (1905-1944/1945)
Boy with a Teddy Bear, 1927
Oil on canvas, 55 x 45 cm
Signed and dated LR: Ilona Singer, 1927


1927 (?) – 1943 – private collection of Margit Hahn (1902-1944), sister of the artist who was deported in 1943 from Prague to the ghetto of Theresienstadt and subsequently to Auschwitz where she was murdered along with her son and the most of her family. (The transport number in the war-time Prague Jewish Museum catalogue card is mistyped from Dh 188 to Eh 188).

July 18, 1944 – until at least 1967 – collection of the Jewish Museum in Prague

Missing since 1967 (or a later date)

In May 2009 put for an auction at Dorotheum Prague, Czech Republic, withdrawn from sale, present whereabouts unknown
Property card for "Boy with a Teddy Bear"
Source: Jewish Museum, Prague

03 August 2013

Researching heirless property in Israel

by Shir Kochavi

The end of the Second World War arrived at a time when Israel (then, Palestine) had been fighting for independence both in the political field and on its territories. The new State (est. 1948) was perceived and promoted as ‘the land of the Jewish people’, and many Holocaust survivors were arriving to settle from Europe. Israeli representatives urged the Allied countries (the U.S., UK and France) to send the young State monetary support (compensations) and remaining cultural property that belonged to Jewish communities from Europe.

Mordechai Narkiss, the first director of the Bezalel Museum and Gershom Scholem, of the National Library, were two important personalities who went, between 1949-1953, to the Central Collecting Points in the US and in the British Zones of Occupation in Germany to evaluate property and select objects to transfer to institutions in Israel.

Their cooperation with organizations like the JCR (Jewish Cultural Reconstruction) and the JRSO (Jewish Restitution Successor Organization) resulted in thousands of books and manuscripts and pieces of Judaica and works of art being sent to Israel.

In correspondence from that time period, we often find references to different messengers sent from Israel to countries around the world. Many were sent on behalf of Jewish organizations like the WJO (World Zionist Organization), The Jewish Agency and the JDC (Joint Distribution Committee). While Israeli messengers assisted Jewish communities around the world to reestablish themselves in a variety of fields, others went to Europe hoping to find remains from Jewish communities that perished during the Holocaust.

One of such messengers was Miriam Novitch. Born in 1908 in White Russia, she moved to France before the outbreak of the Second World War and was arrested in 1943 as a resistance fighter. She was released from Camp Vittel in 1944 and came to Israel in 1946. She devoted her life to Holocaust documentation and research, and often went back to Europe. Novitch worked with several institutions in Israel, most notably the Ein Harod Museum (est. 1937) and the Ghetto Fighters House (est. 1949), where many of the objects that she had brought during her travels in Europe can be found today.[1]

The whereabouts of objects apportioned among Israeli institutions such as the Jewish Orthodox council and the office for Education remains unclear today, especially when it comes to books and Judaica.

Books and Judaica were often allotted to libraries, synagogues, schools and other institution across the State. The idea was to make these objects (formally belonging to perished Jews) available for use by Jews living in the newly independent State. At the time, there was a general dearth of books, Judaica and many other objects for teaching and learning in Israel.

In 1965 the Israel Museum succeeded the Bezalel Museum and absorbed many of its collections, including works of art and Judaica shipped in the early 1950’s from the Munich and Wiesbaden Central Collecting Points. The objects were catalogued and divided between the relevant departments where they are kept today. In 2007 the Museum uploaded images and information about these objects, a collection known as the “JRSO Collection” [Jewish Restitution Successor Organization] onto the website of the Israel Museum.[2] The following year, the Museum devoted an exhibition to this collection, the first-ever organized in Israel on the theme of “Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum”.

These are some of the many ways by which European objects found their way into Israel after the Holocaust. Part of our research and documentation work focuses on:
  • understanding the context of an object; culturally, economically, historically etc. 
  • the people who were involved in the creation, evaluation, acquisition or transport of an object 
  • the political and cultural views at the time are taken into account and serve as background for any inquiry. In some cases this information can assist in locating the object, when its whereabouts are unknown. 
Shir Kochavi (M.A.) is a researcher at the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets in Israel. She has been researching heirless cultural property in Israeli collections and the dispersal of works of art by the JRSO (Jewish Restitution Successor Organization). Shir recently participated in the PRTP-Zagreb where she was introducing the notion of "heirless" cultural property and the postwar work of the JRSO in Allied-occupied Germany and Austria.
[*] Source: http://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh
[1] At the Ghetto Fighters House she established a large collection of testimonies, films, art and other objects which she collected throughout her visits to Europe.
[2] Further information about the JRSO Collection can be found: http://www.imj.org.il/Imagine/irso/

Mea culpa, of sorts

by Marc Masurovsky

On August 2, 2013, an unusual workshop came to an end at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, capped by a two-hour symposium, half of which consisted of presentations summarizing the purpose and result of the workshop and the second half hosting questions from the audience.

The workshop was entitled “Politics of Repair”, already an interesting formulation pertaining to post-1945 attempts by governments and non-governmental organizations alike to come to terms with the material devastation wrought by 12 years of Nazi rule and years of occupation, domination, exploitation, and death, on its victims--men, women, and children of all ages, backgrounds, occupations, and nationalities.

Nine scholars, mostly from continental Europe (exclusive of island nations), staffed the workshop. Half of the scholars had worked in some capacity for national commissions in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century.  These commissions had been established to provide a concrete framework through which to apprehend the extent of the physical and economic damage wrought on victims of Nazi policies and how best to “repair” the damage; hence, the title of the workshop. Their ultimate purpose was to frame the end of the discussion over reparations and restitution.

Why unusual? Perhaps because Holocaust memorials shun discussions over reparations and restitution, plain and simple. Thus, the mere fact that the most significant of all Holocaust memorials built since the 1990s actually hosted such an event is noteworthy.

Having been in the so-called trenches of the Holocaust restitution movement (as opposed to reparations) for several decades, I have a thing or two to say about the topic but always try my best to refrain from imposing a point of view, preferring to listen to what others have to say, especially scholars who have recently cut their teeth on what turns out to be a very complicated affair.

Let’s get to the point here:

During the question and answer period, I waited for about thirty minutes and then I spoke. At that point, I probably was a bit steamed because I vocalized my uncertainty about what it was exactly that I wished to ask the nine workshop historians. Finally, I found the question for which I still have no proper answer: why is it that the historical profession has waited more than six decades to tackle the questions of reparations and restitution resulting from the genocide of the Jewish communities of Europe? I reminded the workshop historians that this was not a personal question but could they give the audience a sense as to why the historical profession has ignored this complex topic for so long and what their future plans are about continuing their research in this specialized aspect of the Holocaust? No one seemed willing to come up with an answer, understandably, since it is somewhat "provocative" without wishing it to be so.  Still, it would be a rather simple affair for a historian to explain his or her motivations for working on the topics of reparations and restitution.  Apparently not.  Finally, one scholar attempted a reply, wondering out loud if this was a question, to which I replied in the affirmative. In essence, he provided a classical response about how in the case of postwar Germany, there was a general unwillingness to investigate the underlying themes of restitution and reparations for lack of interest and also out of fear of stirring numerous hornets’ nests. Hence, it was better for the Academy to just let it go and allow sleeping dogs to lie…

Then, another scholar attempted a more elaborate response. To summarize his meandering and obfuscating reply, he declared in no uncertain terms that it would be inconceivable for an academic lecture on the Holocaust and its aftermath to include any reference to reparations and restitution. Plain and simple. I stopped him right there and asked him to explain his statement. There was an attempt to deflect the question by declaring it off topic and more suited to a Jewish studies workshop.

Here, I blew a gasket. I admit it; it was not the most professional moment in my career, but my emotions got the better of me and I raised my voice and indicated that my question had everything to do with the topic at hand since it was directly relevant to our understanding of Jewish history, society and culture. Needless to say, the exchange was over. The point was made in a very awkward fashion that the Academy continues to shun in-depth examinations of restitution and reparations policies in the post-war era without wishing to explore their deep-seated meanings and how a closer examination of these issues might allow us to reach into some of the root causes and expressions of Nazi anti-Jewish policies. In other words, an academic discussion of restitution and reparations can only succeed if it leads to an economic analysis of the Final Solution, which had been driven in part by the Nazis’ desire to eradicate Jews both physically and materially—their complete elimination from economic and cultural life and the absorption of their assets into the New European Order.

All in all, this brief sparring incident brought under a crude light how difficult it is for historians, after the passage of three generations since the end of the Second World War, to address in a critical and scholarly way the economic underpinnings of the Shoah.

Although I am glad that “I stood my ground,” I am not happy that it had to happen in this manner, and, for that, I do apologize.

It is undoubtedly more acceptable to discuss how postwar governments have striven in different ways to “repair" the damage done to Holocaust victims and their families through "recognition" and "reconciliation", functioning as a paradigm through which memories of the Holocaust can be filtered into a narrative of genocide that prevents us from entering into awkward territories. What a shame…

Online Invitation
Source: Cvent via USHMM

19 July 2013

When is restitution a bad thing? The case of Melanesian wood carvings

by Verity Algar, co-posting with ARCAblog

The Holocaust Art Restitution Project and other organisations aiming to restitute Holocaust-looted art to its rightful owners justifiably propose restitution to be a positive thing in this context. However, my research has shown that not all cultural groups want to re-possess their cultural heritage.

I recently spoke at the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art’s 5th Annual Conference, where I compared these two objects:

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt. (1907). Neue Galerie, New York.
Source: Verity Algar
Malanggan, from Northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Collected in 1890. Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge
Source: Verity Algar

Why would I compare a twentieth-century European painting with a nineteenth-century wood carving from Melanesia, I hear you say?! Well, by comparing these different objects, I wanted to point out that their original owners take vastly different approaches to the restitution of these objects. Let me explain.

In Jewish communities, generally, the original owners of the cultural objects and/or their heirs, feel the need to re-claim their objects in order to gain a sense of closure on a traumatic past. As the following excerpts demonstrate, the language of restitution claims suggest that the Holocaust is not truly over until looted art objects have been restituted:
“The return of stolen art may be one of the last acts of the Shoah”
(Dellheim 2000 cited in Glass 2004: 117) 
“museums … are dealing with the unfinished business of the Holocaust”
(editorial, Seattle Times 16 June 1999) 
“Austria will move closer to closing the book on a somber chapter in 20th-century history”
(Czernin 1998 cited in Glass 2004: 118)
The people of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, do not wish for the malanggan which they themselves created, to be returned to them, despite malanggan being essential to their culture. This may initially seem puzzling because they can often take more than three months to carve (Küchler 2002: 1). Yet they are not made to be displayed, treasured and revered as much of the art confiscated by the Nazis was. Malanggan are displayed for a few hours during mortuary ceremonies, before being left to the elements to decompose (Küchler and Melion 1991: 29). As money became increasingly important in New Ireland, the sale of malanggan to Western collectors became an attractive alternative (Küchler and Melion 1991: 29). More than five thousand malanggan have been collected by Western museums (Küchler and Melion 1991: 27).  As other indigenous groups began to claim the objects that constituted their cultural memory from Western museums, the museums considered restituting the malanggan too.

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of malanggan to Melanesian culture.  During the carving process, the sculpture is imbued with life force, which is “symbolically killed” when ownership of the malanggan is transferred from the deceased’s family to related kin in exchange for money (Küchler and Melion 1991: 32). The image of the malanggan, however, is preserved as cultural memory and is reproduced in future sculptures (Küchler and Melion 1991: 32). Susanne Küchler and Walter Melion refer to the conflicting status of memory surrounding malanggan practice as “strategic remembering and deliberate forgetting” (1991: 30). To restitute these objects to the people of New Ireland would be to rekindle a specific aspect of their cultural memory, thus interfering with the process of “deliberate forgetting”.

Whilst it is fundamentally important that organisations such as ARCA and HARP continue to support research into Holocaust-era looted art, it is equally important that we understand why restitution can be incredibly problematic for some groups of people. Far from interrupting or countering my pro-restitution tendency, the argument against the restitution of malanggan can run alongside this tendency. As a concept, restitution is neither good nor bad. Rather, decisions about whether or not to restitute cultural objects need to be made on a culture-specific basis.

Verity Algar is a second year BA in History of Art student at University College London, where she minors in Anthropology. She recently spoke on ‘Cultural memory and the restitution of cultural property: Comparing Nazi-looted art and Melanesian malanggan’ at the Association of Research into Crimes Against Art’s 5th Annual Conference. She is hoping to complete the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate before working in a field relating to cultural heritage protection. 

01 July 2013

It has been 15 years since that fateful year of 1998: what do we have in 2013?

The American government prefers to let the market decide on what is fair and just for Holocaust victims of cultural plunder.

European governments are loath to challenge the cultural institutions that they subsidize directly and indirectly. By so doing, they legitimize the misappropriation of untold numbers of art objects and they prevent an impartial and scientific examination of the history of these objects which “ended up” in their basements and depots during and after the Second World War.

On the brighter side…

A growing number of curators and other art professionals have changed the way they work in American and European institutions when faced with problematic ownership histories for objects being accessioned or already in their collections—that’s reason enough to be guardedly optimistic.

“Art market players” are more aware than in the recent past regarding the complications arising from the trade in looted cultural assets. But that is all relative. Outside of Paris, London, and New York, that statement becomes moot. Moreover, the absence of verifiable statistics makes it nigh impossible to measure the result of such “increased awareness” because of the near impossibility of coming up with even a gross estimate of restitutions triggered exclusively by the art market’s due diligence efforts. Something to work towards for the sake of “transparency.”

Back to the dark side…

Fewer than five—yes, a number between 0 and 5—institutions of higher learning in the world—as far as one can tell—offer either intermittent or regular academic programs focused solely on provenance research. If universities, colleges, institutes—private and public—continue to be obstinate in their refusal to satisfy a growing demand for such programs, the only possible remedy is to create alternative programs that specialize in provenance research and its interdisciplinary corollaries. Where there is a will, there is a way!

There is no public policy--national or international—with which victims of plunder can assert their interests in seeking the recovery of their stolen cultural property.  It’s time to shame international non-governmental organizations that have repeatedly ignored calls to meet the needs of individuals, entities, and groups whose cultural assets have been and continue to be the targets of theft and plunder.

Some lawyers who call themselves “restitution lawyers” have never recovered anything on behalf of their clients, and yet… they command the respect of their peers in the legal profession.

After all these years, claimants still cannot rely on the international Jewish community to support their quest for restitution of stolen cultural assets. Exceptions are few and duly noted: the New York-based Claims Conference—although the Claims Conference does not handle individual art claims, it stands out as the principal advocate on a global scale for laws and policies that favor the return of looted cultural assets to their rightful owners. Oh yes! In Israel, there is a parastatal organization called Hashavah whose mandate for recovery of looted art only pertains to objects that are located in Israel proper. . And that’s about the size of it, folks.

Left standing are the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and the Commission for Art Recovery, both American-based organizations devoted in their specifically different ways to securing some measure of justice for claimants and to documenting cultural losses during the Holocaust. In the United Kingdom, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe marches on.

What is to be done?

Hashava Poster, Source: Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs

In praise of future collaborative endeavors through provenance research training workshops

Preparations are currently under way to organize a third provenance research training workshop (the first two were in Magdeburg, Germany, and in Zagreb, Croatia) under the aegis of the Prague-based European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI) and the New York-based Claims Conference. It is scheduled to take place in the first week of December 2013.

Lostart.de of the Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg, Source: Aachener Zeitung
Until then, it is worth reviewing some of the more unusual by-products of bringing together for one intensive week thirty or so men and women of all ages who hail from more than a dozen countries… to discuss provenance research, art looting, restitution problems, collections management, forensic methods, Kultur, and any other topic that stimulates one’s interest in such a fulcrum of debate and exchange…:

Hrvatski drzavni arhiv, Source: HDA

This international workshop allows participants, instructors, and specialists to exchange, discuss, argue, disagree, lament, applaud, question, and otherwise engage in dialogue for approximately 50 hours spread out over six days.

Greater awareness

Participants report how the provenance research workshop has influenced the way in which they approach the history of art objects. Others have indicated the need to modify the questions that they ask when faced with problematic provenances. Still more have recognized the importance of historical context when trying to answer that nagging question: who really owns the object?

New paths of research and inquiry

This category applies mostly, but not exclusively, to the undergraduate and graduate students from universities and colleges on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean who attended the Magdeburg (June 2012) and Zagreb (March 2013) workshops. Some indicated how the workshop encouraged them to re-think basic assumptions that they had held about their various lines of inquiry pertaining to the displacement of art objects during the Nazi years. Others chose to examine new topics when they returned to their respective institutions of higher learning. In short, the stimulus produced by a week’s worth of intellectual discourse and exchange hit the mark.
Muzejski dokumentacijski centar, Source: MDC


The international provenance workshops do provide a unique moment to “network” in close quarters under controlled conditions. What is the end result? New chemistry, different bonds, yielding fruitful outcomes, new friendships, new sources of information, new knowledge… novelty and renewed commitments to make things better… as in proposing amendments to existing laws, facilitating recoveries of art objects, keeping current on on-going investigations into art crimes, assessing future possibilities to cooperate, realizing that research interests overlap, working together, sharing information...across cultures and disciplines, whether from North America, Western Europe, Central Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, other parts of Europe and the Middle East.