09 January 2021

“Happy” New Year 2021

By Marc Masurovsky


[This opinion piece reflects my own views and does not necessarily represent those of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and its members.]


The word “happy” should be framed with heavy quotation marks.  In year two of a worldwide pandemic triggered by the seemingly unstoppable spread of a deadly virus popularly known as COVID-19, our everyday routines have been permanently upended. Each and everyone of us has had to rethink how to make ends meet in a largely virtual world. Millions of lives have been cast into disarray and oftentimes shattered, as a confluence of factors generated and fueled by self-centered human behavior has exarcerbated an already terrifying daily reality:

-inadequate and sometimes cynical government responses to the health crisis—that’s putting it mildly!—and their lukewarm initiatives to stanch the damage they have unwittingly stoked;

-citizens’ extraordinary expressions of self-righteous entitlements about not taking even the most elemental hygienic precautions—mask-wearing, social distancing, limiting involvement with and participation in group events and gatherings—just because they can…;

-illogical and irrational politicizing of basic civil and civic behavior aimed at curbing and neutralizing a deadly virus… just because…


Our exit from 2020 allowed us to breathe a sigh of relief with hopes of return to some kind of “normalcy”. That wish was quickly interrupted by the State-sponsored right-wing populist assault on the Congress of the United States on 6 January 2021. The product of decades of discontent and radicalized feelings of alienation, disempowerment of a large segment of the American populace, mixed in with ignorant and uneducated fantasies of Aryan supremacy and profound dislike for the “other” whom these elements have routinely blamed for their own suffering and sense of hopelessness in a fast-moving, rapidly-evolving world. A lethal cocktail that American politicians and elected officials, including the outgoing president, have stoked and manipulated for their own base motives, themselves nurtured by idealizations of what it would be like to be in charge of a largely monolithic, authoritarian, violent and very “white” system.


Knowing all of this, is it still possible to continue discussing crimes against culture resulting in the massive displacement of cultural objects owned by individuals or entities targeted for their “otherness”?


The answer is a resounding “YES.”


The victims of cultural plunder are resoundingly the “others” who don’t fit into a white supremacist, nationalist, monolithic view of a world bereft of difference.


Advocating on their behalf means that we uphold their essential humanity, their inalienable right to exist, thrive and create in this world of ours which is theirs.


Fighting for the restitution of objects displaced and plundered during the Nazi era, or during conflicts around the world, or resulting from attacks against indigenous communities worldwide, means that we fight for our collective and individual rights to culture, regardless of place and context.


Encouraging and promoting a broad-based and democratic approach to the documentation of these displaced objects by acknowledging the stories of their creation and their creators as well as their tumultuous movement occasioned by displacement, theft, misappropriation, and recycling on the international art market.


We are all equal and we are all in this together—regardless of race, creed, religion, ethnicity, and belief.  And together, more than ever, we shall prevail, if not for our sake, for the sake of our children and grand-children and their progeny until the ends of time.