17 April 2018

Teaching plunder to children Part Two

by Marc Masurovsky

This is the continuation of a set of slides developed for children ages 9 to 13 who attended a Jewish middle school in Michigan.  Feel free to use them!

The end... for now.

Teaching plunder to children Part One

by Marc Masurovsky

Here are some images developed for a presentation given to young children in a Jewish middle school, ages 9 to 13. Feel free to use them!

To be continued...

16 April 2018

A brief look at Operation Safehaven, 1944-1949

by Marc Masurovsky
The purpose of this presentation is to place the search for and recovery of Nazi looted art on the European continent in the context of broader Allied policies framed to disentangle the postwar world from the vicissitudes generated by years of Nazi policies of persecution, exploitation and extermination. One of the most brazen efforts aimed at severing the postwar world from the clutches of Nazism was Operation Safehaven, an Anglo-American program whose goal was to neutralize and eliminate any evidence—physical and corporate—of Nazi influence, defined as broadly as possible, worldwide, but mostly in war-torn Europe and, in particular, in the so-called “neutral” countries, the non-belligerents of WWII—Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden.
Neutral countries (in tan) during WWII
With regard to the specific campaign of plunder waged by Nazi agents and officials across occupied Europe, Safehaven’s natural targets encompassed looted cultural objects, regardless of value and significance, and their possessors, traders, and recyclers, the orchestrators of these crimes, who were fit to be considered as “enemy agents” involved in abetting Nazi post-defeat plans in a liberated postwar world.

While the Safehaven program came into being in the summer and fall of 1944, three art commissions were established to assess and address the problem of cultural damage across Europe and more precisely assess cultural losses suffered by institutions and individuals and remedy them as well and equitably as possible.

Various Allied declarations against Axis looting in occupied Europe laid the groundwork for the Safehaven program and its treatment of neutral countries:

Resolution VI set the diplomatic stage for the Safehaven program and its focus on the neutral countries—Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, and Spain.

To be fair, Safehaven being ostensibly an Anglo-American program, it was burdened, from the outset, by historic and often virulent rivalries and mutual enmity between the United States and Great Britain. The Safehaven program evolved in an environment of acute economic competition and rivalry between the the US and Great Britain which influenced the policy-making process underlying Safehaven. As an example, viewed from the British side, the Safehaven program was the American government’s Trojan Horse aimed at breaching the protectionist barriers of British Imperial trade preferences surrounding its Empire.

Nevertheless, the Safehaven program arose from a legitimate security concern expressed by the Allies over a possible continuation of Nazi activity in the post-war era, using commercial covers, neutral benevolence, and significant pro-Axis sentiment in the neutrals, liberated countries and some of the United Nations. Overall, the Americans were far more strident on this point than the British.

Although Safehaven was outwardly a security-based program designed to neutralize Nazi strongholds in the neutral countries, it morphed into an instrument of foreign economic policy aimed at establishing American pre-eminence in the post-war world. If Pax Anglo-Americana prevailed during the interwar years, the goal of the American government, in the words of Henry Morgenthau, Treasury Secretary uner Franklin D. Roosevelt, was to establish a “Pax Americana” at war’s end. 
Henry Morgenthau, courtesy of USHMM

                 Samuel Klaus
The British government was keenly aware of this possibility, which explains its reluctance to join in the Safehaven program. Moreover, Samuel Klaus, the American official who "thought up" Safehaven, was an anti-trust and anti-cartel specialist/activist at the Foreign Economic Administration (FEA), the main American agency responsible for the US economic warfare strategy. Its British equivalent was the Ministry of Economic Warfare (MEW). Klaus’ worldview was shaped by the anti-monopolist, anti-corporate combination mentality of the New Deal. And so were those of many of his colleagues 
at the Treasury Department under Morgenthau’s stewardship.

Safehaven was initially anchored in economic warfare measures, but gradually transformed itself into an economic security program wrapped into a foreign policy initiative shepherded by the State Department aimed at asserting American influence in the neutral countries, at the expense of the British government. The defeat of Morgenthau's Plan for Germany in late September 1944 allowed the State Department to step in as the de facto articulator of American foreign policy regarding the postwar world, however unprepared it may have been to tackle this task, especially in the field of economic policy. 

Ultimately, inter-departmental Safehaven policy within the US government evolved in the context of postwar treatment of Germany and its former allies, while Allied Anglo-American Safehaven policy unfolded in the context of strained Anglo-American relations, characterized by British reliance on American aid at the end of the war, and Anglo-American commercial rivalry in Latin America and Europe. It became clear to American officials that Allied economic policy could not apply equally to all neutrals. It should serve as a basis for discussion among the Allies. The problems involved cloaking of enemy assets by neutrals and profit-taking from these during WWII with Germany, Italy and other Axis countries serving as customers. The American government set specific goals in their approach to neutral countries, including effective measures to stop “enemy-owned” property, and assist in the restitution of looted assets and so-called flight capital. These were the basic tenets guiding the Allied treatment of the neutral countries after 1945, which the State Department issued on December 28, 1944. [Document D-90/44 of Executive Committee on Economic Foreign Policy (ECEFP) dated 12/28/44 stamped SECRET, 4 pages, entitled "US proposal regarding Allied economic policy towards neutral countries", 4 page attachment entitled "Attainment of Allied objectives in neutral countries." Enemy assets, confiscation of enemy property by neutrals, the Proclaimed List and supplies are discussed in the attachment. RG 169 Entry 231 General Counsel Box 1159 Committees – Economic Foreign Policy.]

In the field, the challenges faced by Safehaven were most noticeable in Spain, led by a military dictator, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.  
Francisco Franco
The British opposed any direct approach to Spain on matters regarding the presence of Nazi looted assets. Furthermore, they did not want to discuss openly with Franco’s aides the fact that Nazi and Fascist escapees were transiting through Spain on their way to Latin America. When American officials in Washington presented to the British on October 18, 1944, evidence of these Safehaven-related activities in Spain, they doubted their authenticity. 

However, the British and American ambassadors in Madrid agreed that conventional economic warfare pressures against Spanish businesses were sufficient to preclude the systematic smuggling of looted assets, including art, through Spain and the Canary Isles to Latin America.[C 14665/129/41 FO 371 39721 CENTRAL 1944 Top Secret from Bowker (BritEmb, Madrid) to F.K. Roberts, FO 10.18.44. It was equally difficult for the British and the Americans to agree on the wording of messages to neutral governments. For instance, British officials from Treasury, Trade With the Enemy Department (TWED) and the Foreign Office (FO) tried to convince their American counterparts to delay sending instructions to their Missions on the subject of looted gold. The Americans feared that the State Department would be piqued over such delay tactics.“We [the British] eventually agreed to get off (as a token of goodwill) instructions to our Missions in neutral countries as soon as possible, not to be acted on without confirmation... [The American] instructions to their Missions are to "urge" the neutrals to accept our policy. What we do not know is whether this means that if they get silence or a putting off answer in reply they will wish to carry the matter further. One thing which worries the Americans is delay. They are extremely anxious to get this off tomorrow morning....”[UE 1717/23/77 FO 371 40998 ECONOMIC AND RECONSTRUCTION 1944 To Coulson (FO) from Playfair (Treasury) 10.16.44 re approach to neutrals on looted gold.]

The future of Safehaven lay in the collection of reliable raw intelligence from the field—continental Europe still in the throes of Nazi and Fascist control and occupation—requiring extensive coordination with espionage agents, clandestine operatives, and informants operating under cloak. Once collected, where were the data concentrated? Analyzed by whom? Distributed to whom? Such considerations, logistical, bureaucratic, and political, compelled a semblance of coordination and centralization of responsibilities where no such centralization existed since the very nature of Safehaven was polycratic—multiple agencies in two nations, the US and Great Britain, dividing up responsibilities to manage a program with no head, over which they were already bickering as to its extent and impact on both countries and their allies.

Amongst the thousands of pieces and bits of intelligence collected from the field were leads and documented instances of looting and circulation of looted art from the point of confiscation and seizure to sites, most often located in neutral countries. How to tease out that information efficiently was an overwhelming challenge which rendered the information, more often than not, stale and worthy of simply being carded and indexed.

Safehaven required timely and unified action between the Allies and with the neutral countries, predicated on reliable, prima facie evidence to convince the neutrals to adhere to a vision of post-war Europe where America replaced Great Britain as the preeminent economic power. However, the tribulations involved in information sharing between American and British officials compounded the challenge of enforcing an effective countervailing plan against the threat of Nazi post-defeat planning. Whereas Treasury officials in Washington and London were only too happy to work together and cooperate, the same could not be said for their diplomatic colleagues at State and FO who eyed each other with a mix of disdain and suspicion. And rightly so. This level of discord and discomfort was deeply rooted on both sides of the Atlantic.

The success of Safehaven rested on the full cooperation of the governments of the neutral countries where property and valuables under German control were thought to be invested or concealed. To attain this goal, the United States government needed to persuade the leaders of the neutral countries to enact laws and issue orders to uproot those assets that the American government had identified as of “enemy” origin, which were subject to seizure and liquidation. In effect, the Allies were asking the neutrals to surrender some aspects of their neutrality without sacrificing their sovereignty.

Safehaven required a complete political and economic purging of Nazi holdovers worldwide. That meant different things to different people. For idealist Allied officials, for example, the purge of Nazism through Safehaven was the ultimate goal; for the pragmatists and realists, any Safehaven settlement with the neutrals was a step in the right direction, even if it meant that they had to compromise the Safehaven program’s principles in order to reach a binding agreement with the governments of neutral countries. American policy-makers used Safehaven as a litmus test for renewing trade relations with the neutral countries. It goes without saying that the British and the Americans could not and did not see eye to eye on the postwar economic vision set forth by American planners. Neither could Great Britain subscribe to and join in the political pressure exerted by the US on the neutral governments with which Britain had enjoyed close ties for decades.

On the art front, French (Vaucher), British (Macmillan), and American (Roberts) art recovery commissions, had been established between 1942 and 1944 to locate and return looted works of art in territories under the control of the Axis powers and especially in Western and Central Europe. Their mission overlapped in several ways with the objectives of the Safehaven program.

1/ Safehaven viewed art as a fungible commodity able which was easily transferable from one location to another and easily converted into cash or as an investment which would cloak enemy assets, therefore subject to seizure and transfer to an Allied agency by the government of the nation where the looted item was located.

2/ the Allied art commissions sought to locate and recover specific categories of looted art and return to their countries of origin. A rare case where Safehaven aided art recovery missions concerned Alois Miedl, one of Goering’s main agents in German-occupied Holland, who spirited to Spain over 30 Old Master paintings and who became the subject of an international quest for the seizure of the paintings, their return to the Netherlands, his arrest by Spanish authorities and his transfer to Allied authorities who all vied for a piece of him—French, Dutch, American, and British.

3/ both Safehaven and these commissions sought to locate these looted objects and ensure that they were safely removed from enemy hands. Safehaven findings on the wartime activities at the Fischer Gallery in Lucerne, Switzerland, combined with American and British intelligence reports about the dozens of art works looted from France and other German-occupied nations, recycled through that gallery into the Swiss art market and beyond.

However, Safehaven and the Allied art missions diverged over the treatment of individuals involved in looting activities or profiting from them:

Safehaven officials viewed the possessors of looted cultural objects as aiding and abetting Nazi post-defeat planning. If these individuals were found in neutral countries, Safehaven officials wanted them investigated for their wartime activities, and possibly arrested by the government of that nation, the art in their possession forcibly removed as enemy assets, and, if of German nationality, sent back to Germany through an Allied-sanctioned repatriation program of “obnoxious individuals.”
Allied art commissions held a more lenient view towards those dealing in looted art and benefiting from looted art in the same fashion as Safehaven operatives. Their concern was to recover the objects.
Jurisdictionally, the Allied art missions operated mostly in the Allied zones of occupation and recently liberated territories, while Safehaven operations were largely focused on the neutral countries for diplomatic and geostrategic reasons. Zones of overlapping interest included most notably Switzerland.

There is no available and explicit evidence that Safehaven matters were routinely discussed amongst officials in the various Allied art missions in terms of coordinating their agendas and programs with the directives of the Safehaven program. However, many Safehaven bulletins and memos regarding looted art and those who possessed it or traded in it, especially as of 1944, were shared with the three Allied art missions. In the case of Fischer Gallery and Alois Miedl, they were already the targets of Allied economic warfare measures and thus prevented from dealing in any way with Allied individuals and entities.

Despite the production of an astounding amount of raw and analyzed intelligence through the Safehaven program regarding looted assets and in particular looted cultural goods, the Allied art missions operating in the Zones of occupation of Germany and Austria became intensely focused on the task at hand, which was the removal of what they identified as looted art from those areas and their repatriation to the countries of origin.

The application of Safehaven principles to the post-Nazi, post-Holocaust art world, would have been a complete fiasco. Most players in the wartime art markets were still present in the late 1940s, resuming business with their former enemies. Many had received official reprimands from their postwar governments; at least this was the case in Western Europe. Licenses were gradually handed out to individuals seeking to work on the art market in the various Allied zones of occupation of Germany and Austria. And soon enough, the art trade resumed as an international economic and commercial activity in the form of exports to the Americas and the resumption of international exhibits.

The Safehaven program petered out by 1949 as an ambitious attempt to mark a clear and unquestionable break between the horrors of the Second World War and the postwar world, through a redress of economic injustice and an as complete neutralization of Nazi attempts at restructuring economic, commercial and financial capabilities amid the chaos of the immediate postwar years. The reasons for the ultimate defeat of Safehaven are manifold: an incipient Cold War pitting former allies against one another, intense economic rivalries among the Western Allies, pressure to rehabilitate formerly occupied lands as quickly as possible, the reluctance of the Allied military to insist on restitution and to allow for easy fixes characterized by reparations policies aimed at compensating those who had suffered minor or major economic and personal losses during the Nazi years.

Similar pressures produced mixed results in the location, recovery and restitution of looted cultural objects and the punishment of those who participated in, orchestrated and/or benefited from those thefts against Jewish victims.

In the US, State Department officials were anxious to resume the transcontinental art trade, following the closing down of the Roberts Commission in July 1946. The Commission’s justification for putting itself out of existence reflected the ambient mood of the time, reflective of those who favored a “soft peace” with Germany. They preferred to allow the art trade to resume and not be held hostage by the horrors of WWII, arguing that the public wanted and needed access to great art from Europe. Even dealers victimized by the Nazis and reestablished in New York clamored for an immediate resumption of the trade with Europe.

The end result? Much as in the economic sphere where old partnerships between Axis, allied and neutral interests resumed under different guises to generate new sources of revenue in the postwar era, so did relationships in the art world between American, British, French, German, Austrian, Belgian, Dutch and other art specialists, dealers, curators, historians and other fixture of the art world, regardless of what they had “done” or not “done” during the Nazi years and the years of Axis occupation and control across Europe.

The norm called for moving forward and letting go of the past.
The Safehaven Program and Allied efforts to locate and recover looted art demonstrated that there remained in civil society elevated ideals of justice and—as it turned out—utopian visions of a postwar and post-Holocaust world which did not square with the cynical reality and demands of daily life. The fact that Safehaven and these efforts did take place testifies to our capacity to embrace a more just and equitable world, then, and now, regardless of the often meager results that these efforts carry with them.

15 April 2018

La "question juive" et le marché de l'art en France, 1940-1944

by Marc Masurovsky

[This paper was delivered in French at an international conference in Bonn, Germany, on November 30, 2017. The conference focused on plunder and art trafficking in wartime France, 1940-1944, and was sponsored by the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste.]

J’ai choisi de vous parler de la « question juive » et du marché de l’art à Paris pendant l’occupation de la France par les troupes et services du Reich allemand, de mi-juin 1940 à la fin du mois d’août 1944.

Pourquoi un tel sujet ? 

Je me suis demandé, peut-être naïvement, s’il était utile d’associer la “question juive” au marchéde l’art en France sous Vichy et l’occupation allemande. Mon intention était de proposer la notion suivante : la campagne antijuive, antisémite, menée en tandem par la France de Vichy et par l’occupant allemand, a changéde manière radicale le comportement des gens en France en injectant la « question juive » dans leur quotidien, leur vécu, leurs échanges, leurs rapports personnels et professionnels. Avant juin-juillet 1940, on ne prenait pas de décisions dans un contexte juif/non-juif ou aryen. Mais pendant quatre longues années, cette dualitéjuive/aryenne ou juive/non juive fit partie de la vie quotidienne de ceux et celles qui vivaient en France et surtout dans les villes où on pouvait trouver une communauté juive.Mise en pratique dans le monde de l’art, dans le marchéde l’art, la question juive, àmes yeux, devient pertinente.

Que veut-on dire par la “question juive” ?

Cette expression suggère une remise en cause, la nécessitéde questionner ce qui est « juif », la qualité de « juif, » la spécificité« juive. » C’est une question qui se pose différemment selon que l’on soit juif, ou non juif.

Le débat sur la question juive a été lancé par des philosophes allemands dans la première moitié du 19ème siècle, dans un contexte tout autre, à savoir l’émancipation des juifs vivant dans les provinces allemandes.

En 1843, Karl Marx rédige une « Réflexion sur la question juive » qui prend à partie un pamphlet polémique « La question juive », rédigé la même année par un de ses anciens professeurs, Bruno Bauer. Ce dernier était opposé à l’émancipation des communautés juives implantés en terres allemandes. Dans sa réplique à Bauer, Marx associe indissolublement la qualité de juif à une activité économique. Autrement dit, on ne peut être juif sans être producteur de capital, de richesse économique. Si on suit le raisonnement de Marx, l’émancipation des juifs, le règlement de la question juive ne peut s’accomplir que si les juifs abandonnent délibérément leur qualité de juif telle qu’elle est supposée être conçue dans un contexte capitaliste. Cela reviendrait à dire qu’une communauté juive émancipée accepterait de perdre son essence juive, qui, elle, est liée à une activité spécifique de production de capital. Même si Marx pensait honnêtement que son projet était humaniste et séculier, ma vulgarisation de ses propos avancés en 1843, soit cent ans avant la Shoah, démontre comment un tel argument pouvait être complètement dénaturé un siècle plus tard par la montée des idéologies fondées sur l’inégalité des races et la supériorité de la race aryenne qui trouveront leur écho dans le national socialisme allemand et ses variantes antisémites dans l’extrême-droite française. Je ne suis pas ici pour faire le procès de Marx mais je voulais simplement retracer très brièvement la généalogie de cette expression néfaste.

La réflexion de Marx sur la « question juive » remet donc en cause l’essence de la judéité, la qualité de juif, sa substance spirituelle, culturelle, et existentielle. Parler de « question juive » équivaut à questionner la raison d’être « juif ». A partir de 1940, la solution de la question juive implique l’extirpation des juifs de la vie économique de la société civile en leur soutirant leurs richesses et leurs capacités de produire, de consommer, d’exister économiquement, socialement, religieusement et culturellement. Pour moi, la question juive comme notion antisémite s’inscrit dans une interprétation économique de la qualité de « juif. »

L’activité économique qui nous intéresse aujourd’hui est celle qui caractérise le marché de l’art, un organisme complexe, qui ressemble plutôt à un tissu de réseaux et de filaments liant entre eux à des degrés divers artistes, marchands, collectionneurs, courtiers, personnels de musées, de galeries, de maisons de vente, notaires, avocats, banquiers, experts, historiens de l’art dont les compétences aident à soutenir et maintenir ce que l’on appelle le marché de l’art. Ces filaments s’étendent à travers l’Europe—et même au-delà jusque dans les Amériques et l’Asie. Ce monde ne peut fonctionner sans opacité, un monde dominé par le secret d’affaires. Après 1940, tout change. Les marchands, les galéristes, les collectionneurs d’origine juive disparaissent du marché, tandis que leurs inventaires, leurs biens culturels et artistiques s’écoulent par les mêmes réseaux dont ils se servaient avant l’imposition de mesures discriminatoires les excluant de toute activité économique. Vu l’intimité des rapports qui existaient entre tous les différents acteurs du marché de l’art, il est impossible d’exclure la possibilité que les marchands non-juifs n’aient acheté et vendu des objets qui appartenaient à leurs homologues juifs, souvent rivaux et concurrents. Très vite, les réseaux du marché de l’art s’adaptent à la nouvelle réalité—ils se maintiennent et s’épanouissent sous couvert d’une force d’occupation militaire et policière nazie et un régime autoritaire de collaboration qui se déclare français et qui est, par sa nature même, antisémite.

De nouveaux clients se manifestent à Paris. En l’occurrence, des milliers de fonctionnaires civils et militaires qui travaillent pour l’administration allemande, les services de sécurité et les différents ministères du Reich implantés d’ores et déjà en France occupée. S’y ajoutent les effectifs des sociétés commerciales, financières et industrielles des pays de l’Axe en quête de nouveaux clients. Ces nouveaux-venus accroissent la demande pour des objets et œuvres d’art sur le marché parisien. Les reçus des marchands, les factures, les bons de transport, les échanges de correspondance constituent une partie des preuves matérielles qui confirment la multiplication des transactions entre acteurs du marché de l’art en France occupée et une importante clientèle provenant du Reich et de ses territoires annexes.

Si la politique antijuive de Vichy et de l’occupant allemand nécessite la mise en place d’une France ‘judenrein’—sans juifs, qu’ils soient nés en France ou venant d’un autre pays, un marchéde l’art déjudaïsérequiert l’anéantissement de sa composante juive, c’est-à-dire, des membres de l’école de Paris et de leurs œuvres ainsi que l’exclusion des marchands, collectionneurs et autres spécialistes et courtiers qui peuplent ce marchéet qui sont fichés comme appartenant àla communauté juive.

Qui sont ces artistes ?

Installés en France par centaines depuis le début du 20ème siècle, ils avaient quittéleurs foyers en Europe de l’Est et dans les Balkans en quête d’une inspiration artistique qu’ils étaient sûrs de trouver à l’Ouest et plus précisément en France. Ce sont les grands oubliés, les marginaux, pauvres, difficilement intégrés dans la société française, dans les milieux de l’art. Ils s’expriment en yiddisch, en russe, en d’autres langues slaves. Ils fréquentent certains cafés surtout ceux de Montparnasse comme le Dome et la Rotonde. Bien que les grands marchands juifs parisiens les ignorent, ils créent leurs propres réseaux, persévèrent, côtoient de grands artistes comme Chagall, Braque, Picasso, Modigliani et Soutine, ils attirent des collectionneurs et marchands séduits par leur romantisme et le lyrisme de leurs œuvres. La plupart sont des crève-la-faim. Mais ils persistent et arrivent à faire entrer leurs œuvres dans une multitude de salons et d’expositions. Leur présence pose un défi au goût officiel qui met en avant un art « français. » Si bien que lorsque la France tombe sous le joug nazi en 1940, une dualité entre art « français » et art « juif » prend forme. 

Si le goût officiel que prônent les milieux conservateurs plutôt aisés du monde de l’art se démarque de cet art produit par des personnes juives venant de l’Est, l’instauration d’un régime autoritaire et antisémite servira à réaffirmer que ces artistes « étrangers » ne reflètent aucunement les valeurs de la France qu’imaginent les vichyistes. Yvon Bizardel en profita pour définir Vichy en ces termes : c’est la revanche du goût contre les dérives esthétiques qui caractérisèrent l’entre-deux-guerres et le déclin de la troisième république. D’une certaine façon, l’imposition d’une esthétique bien « française » est à l’ordre du jour pendant ces années noires. Mais pour ce faire, il faut se débarrasser des « autres » et les remplacer par des artistes de mérite qui sont, par ailleurs, non juifs et français. En tout cas, c’est comme cela que je le ressens, en particulier, lors de l’annonce de la nouvelle école de Paris en 1941, suite à une série d’expositions regroupant des artistes français à tendance moderne, certains fortement abstraits, d’autres puissamment figuratifs et traditionnalistes dans les thèmes qu’ils explorent. Nouvelle école de Paris. Le choix des mots est particulièrement pervers, quand on sait quelle a été la destinée de la quasi-totalité des membres de l’école de Paris de l’entre-deux-guerres, juive et étrangère, en grande partie massacrée ou morte dans des conditions atroces produites par l’isolement, la terreur, et le manque.

Peut-on argumenter que le renouveau de l’art français sous Vichy constitue une étape nécessaire dans la déjudaïsation de la vie artistique en France?

Faut-il en déduire que l’épuration de l’Ecole de Paris cède la place à cet art « français » non juif sous Vichy et au-delà ?

L’activité commerciale artistique évolue dans un climat de plus en plus sévère. L’Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg de concert avec les services de sécurité du parti nazi lancent une campagne systématique visant à extirper de la société française tout ce qui est « juif. » L’ERR cible les collections d’œuvres et d’objets d’art appartenant à des propriétaires juifs--collectionneurs, marchands, et artistes confondus. Le musée du Jeu de Paume, sous la direction des spécialistes de l’ERR en poste à Paris, se transforme dès l’automne de 1940 en centre de triage, de sélection, de catalogage et de traitement de dizaines de milliers d’objets et d’œuvres d’art de toutes sortes, de qualité extrêmement variable, soutirés à des centaines de propriétaires d’origine juive tant dans la région parisienne que dans le Sud-ouest et éventuellement tout au long de la côte d’azur. Paris devient la plaque tournante d’un marché de l’art où pullulent une quantité impossible à chiffrer d’objets et d’œuvres d’art pillés, confisqués, aryanisés. Le Jeu de Paume regorge d’objets ; l’excédent est dispersé parmi une douzaine de dépôts auxiliaires aménagés pour la plupart dans les quartiers huppés de la capitale en particulier dans le 8ème, le 16ème et le 17èmearrondissement. Un réseau d’appartements et d’hôtels complète cette infrastructure de recel d’objets pillés. Tout ce qui n’est pas emballé et convoyé vers le Reich est recyclable sur le marché parisien et de temps à autre à destination de pays limitrophes—Belgique, Hollande, Suisse, Italie, Autriche, même vers le Gouvernement général dans ce qui fut la Pologne. Pouvons-nous parler d’une suroffre d’objets pillés? Il serait facile de dire que l’excédent d’objets pillés fut convoyé à destination des villes allemandes frappés par les bombardements alliés. Mais la situation est bien plus compliquée. Les documents d’époque et les dossiers de restitution d’après-guerre nous laissent croire que la majorité des objets volés chez les particuliers n’ont jamais été enregistrés par les fonctionnaires de l’ERR ou de la Dienststelle Westen. Et pourtant, ces objets ont bel et bien disparu. De nombreux foyers ont subi des actes de pillage répêtés, parfois trois, quatre, même cinq perquisitions, s’étendant sur plusieurs années. Une partie de ces objets seulement furent « traités » au Jeu de Paume. Qu’en est-il du reste ? Comme réponse possible : ils ont été écoulés par des antiquaires, des bouquinistes, des luthiers, des joaillers, des galeries d’art, des salles de ventes, par des ventes improvisées dans des lieux aussi insolites que des hôtels et des restaurants. Ce recyclage nécessita des milliers de personnes disposées à faciliter pour toutes sortes de raisons, la monétisation de la propriété juive. 

La M-Aktion agit comme courroie de transmission entre les agences de pillage et les points de vente ; le Jeu de Paume, comme centre de tri, opère des sélections d’objets à rendre à la M-Aktion pour être ensuite vendus sur le marché. La machine de pillage et de recyclage assure un débit important de produits pillés. Les marchands, en général bien renseignés sur de nouvelles sources d’objets à exploiter, devaient bien se douter que l’origine de tant d’objets en circulation était illicite, le fruit d’une confiscation, d’un prélèvement exécuté par des commandos à la solde de l’occupant ou de Vichy. Le marché noir qu’entretenait différents services allemands, regorgeait lui aussi de biens pillés et fournissait des filières de recyclage qui s’étendaient au-delà des frontières, en particulier vers l’Espagne et la Suisse, animées par la pègre corse, des collabos venant de pays alliés à l’Axe et de temps en temps par des mauvaises graines de la communauté juive, des opportunistes qui se retournèrent contre leurs compatriotes, motivés par l’appât du gain. Quoiqu’ils ne fussent pas très nombreux, leur existence est indéniable ainsi que leur participation au pillage économique et artistique de la communauté juive en France occupée.

Après quatre années de pillages, de confiscations, de saisies, dans le cadre d’une entreprise génocidaire, le marché de l’art en 1945 est totalement compromis, pollué, contaminé par une masse d’objets et d’œuvres, difficilement identifiables, mais qui proviennent de foyers exterminés, de vies brisées. Tous les recoins de ce qu’on appelle le monde de l’art, sont impliqués dans cette entreprise, y compris les fonctionnaires en poste qui officialisaient et rationnalisaient ces actes de pillages contre la communauté juive. Le comble voudrait que tout ce beau monde invoque après la guerre la bonne foi telle une incantation, afin de défendre leur comportement. Entretemps, six millions de vies humaines à travers l’Europe ont été effacées dans des circonstances on ne peut plus cruelles. 

Quand les forces alliées entrent dans Paris, le marché de l’art de l’après-guerre est privé de sa composante juive pour cause de génocide. Les marchands juifs rescapés sont ceux qui quittèrent la France à temps ou se terrèrent dans des villages isolés en attendant des jours meilleurs. Ils revinrent dans un Paris où seuls des fantômes bavardent en yiddish aux terrasses des cafés.

Beyond ethnic minority rights

by Marc Masurovsky

[The following presentation was delivered at the annual conference of the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP), which took place in Washington, DC, on April 13, 2018. This presentation was part of a panel on ethnic minority rights to recover their looted cultural property and how States oftentimes interfere with those rights.]

I would like to thank the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation for having invited me to speak today. I am grateful for their support and I thank this panel’s members for letting me sit among them.

I am neither a lawyer nor an art dealer. Neither do I collect indigenous or archaeological objects. Although I am identified as a co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, the views that I hold today are my own.

I have been a lifelong student of the economics of genocide and more particularly of cultural plunder and the trauma that it has engendered and continues to inflict on its victims.

My first professional encounter with these crimes against humanity occurred while working for the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice. Three years in those trenches brought me into intimate face to face contact with Nazi collaborators living quiet lives in the United States. They owed their freedom to a cynical calculation by Western politicians, military strategists and intelligence agents that it was better for them to recruit Axis war criminals to be deployed in the event of an impending global conflict against the Soviet Union than handing them over to face justice in the countries where they had plundered, tortured and murdered untold numbers of Jews and local enemies of Nazism and fascism, real or imagined. A number of those whom I met were personally responsible for the forced dispossession of thousands of Jews in far-flung corners of Eastern Europe and the Aryanization of their holdings.

I have spent the greater part of my adult life, with mixed results, advocating for the restitution of looted art objects to their rightful Jewish owners. I have always viewed restitution, as part of an overall healing process, a salve on a trans-generational traumatic scar. I had thought that restitution or the physical return of a stolen object to its rightful owner would be as simple as removing the claimed object from a wall, a cupboard, a safe, a table, a library shelf, and handing it over to its rightful owner. As it turns out, I was quite naïve; I fell off that horse long ago as restitution is the most complicated and twisted process that I have ever encountered.

The reasons for this are manifold. They are ensconced in legal concepts and value systems that, in my view, place the private property rights of current possessors outside the realm of question. Those who possess the claimed item invoke good faith as a defense as if it was an accepted religious dogma. In most nations, good faith is accepted on faith in cult-like fashion and is upheld by State officials, museum personnel, their lawyers and those businessmen who currently own those objects. Good faith is an extremely difficult shield to pierce. Ethical and moral arguments alone cannot even dent its armor. A recent illustration of this problem comes from Switzerland where it took nearly two decades for a single Frenchman of Jewish descent with lots of pro bono help, creativity and chutzpah, to force a Swiss museum to return to him a painting which his family had lost in 1943, the first such restitution to a non-Swiss Jewish claimant since 1949.

In a world which hides behind good faith and heralds private property rights as sacred, even in the face of horrors committed against entire populations, one has to wonder: is justice an empty word?

It is partly in this context that I can discuss how ethnic minorities can recover their looted cultural assets. Their rights have been routinely trampled in the nations where they have dwelt for generations. To put it bluntly, human beings have been socialized for millennia to display very low levels of tolerance towards the “others”, those who do not think, look, and believe in the same way as those who belong to the dominant group wielding local, regional or State power. Too often, dominant groups will solve these differences through marginalization, dehumanization, persecution, incarceration, deportation, and outright extermination. Every corner of the globe is tainted with the blood of the “others”. And every corner of the globe is host to the displaced possessions of the “others.”

There is a system of international laws, charters, covenants, and conventions, which has been in place for decades that seeks to address these egregious acts of persecution and dispossession. International organizations tend to recognize those rights, countries around the world have signed international conventions recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, the United Nations boasts of charters that uphold those rights. One cannot even count how many NGOs exist which are there to protect and safeguard the rights of ethnic minorities. And yet…

In practical terms, we need to address how dispossessed objects which are located in foreign markets or displayed in museums or galleries, far away from the scene of the crime, can be restituted to their rightful owners, be they cultural groups, religious minorities, ethnic communities whose members are scattered across many continents.

As indicated earlier, the physical return of these objects to rightful owners is the most difficult and yet, in my view, the clearest expression of how to counter a State-sponsored theft: by transferring title to the aggrieved party. The more likely scenario to unfold involves some form of compromise on the part of the victim or the victim’s heirs and representatives. Either the victims are compensated financially or some other arrangement is reached which upholds the rights of the current possessor while providing some form of relief to the claimant. Is that fair and just? In 1998, the Washington Conference on Holocaust assets produced a list of 11 non-binding principles which were designed to guide nations and institutions where looted objects were identified on how to either return them or seek some form of “just and fair solution.” Victims of plunder did not initiate the idea of just and fair; the current possessors, in most cases State-owned museums and institutions, pressed for that idea, one that diplomats embraced as an acceptable resolution of the treatment of objects looted during the Third Reich in the context of a genocidal enterprise.

If we apply the logic of the Washington Principles to the treatment of objects forcibly removed from ethnic minority groups around the world, the outcome would be nothing short of catastrophic since it would imply that no one could recover their lost property. Why return objects when the current possessors are given the opportunity to seek a compromise arrangement with the aggrieved parties? In the case of antiquities, source nations would never abide by these Principles because they would prevent the repatriation of their cultural heritage. A just and fair solution rarely entails the actual return of the object, unless the source nations accept that these objects be loaned to them without actually recovering them in the same way that the Victoria and Albert Museum has agreed to loan objects to Ethiopia on a long term basis.

When cultural objects are considered to be a nation’s cultural property, and are viewed as part of that nation’s patrimony, the questions of ownership become even more complex and require political solutions. Nations repatriate to other nations, not to individuals or local groups. Much like after the Second World War, Allied cultural advisers repatriated looted art to the nations where the thefts had taken place, leaving it to those governments to restitute the items to individuals and to aggrieved communities. All nations indulge in this duplicitous approach to culture, some are worse than others. Governments can and will impose their inalienable right to ownership of repatriated objects at the expense of victimized groups and individuals if they are allowed to do so.

Those who deal, collect, exhibit, trade, lend, donate cultural objects across borders bear a unique responsibility in the treatment of objects illicitly acquired and recirculated through private and public channels across borders. Although looting is an unacceptable crime, it is also universal, as is the acquisition and trade of looted cultural and artistic objects. Many of these looted objects come from nations governed by autocrats, where democracy is a dirty word. Many nations today have fallen prey to nationalist parties and movements which believe strongly in the cult of the nation as an incarnation of a certain ideal of citizenry. Culture is treated accordingly. In a peculiar way, those nations are anxious to recover their looted cultural property but they are not eager to return those objects to their citizens especially when they are members of ethnic minorities. While the nationalist wave is gaining ground across Europe and even in the United States, it has been a reality for decades in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

From an ethical and moral standpoint, the repatriation of looted objects to autocratic and dictatorial nations can be viewed as problematic. But what is the alternative? Prevent those objects from returning to their source? Under what pretense? That we are morally and culturally superior? If we follow those arguments, we are no better than 19th century colonial adventurers who viewed the “others” as inferiors and whose assets should best be handled by the Western world. We cannot allow ourselves to think that we are morally superior to anyone. Although I am not at all religious, I find that there is something to be said for the biblical adage: let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Ultimately, this discussion should go beyond the rights of ethnic minority groups to recover their looted cultural assets. It should encompass all victims of cultural plunder. The solutions are manifold and delicate. They require careful coordination at the policy level, nationally and internationally. At the core, these solutions must reconcile the interests of the art market, the interests of governments, the interests of those who possess and display, the interests of those who have been victimized by acts of expropriation and dispossession and outright thievery. Art objects are an integral part of our individual and collective memory of the past and the present. They are an extension of who and what we are. For those reasons, it is as important to transcribe faithfully and truthfully the story of these objects as it is to recover them. Every cultural object, regardless of origin, deserves a thoroughly fleshed out provenance before it is displayed or traded. Ignorance, arrogance and greed are the enemy.

One way to forestall future acts of State-sanctioned plunder is to ensure that the history of these objects and their owners is written, published, disseminated and taught to as wide a public as possible.