December 4, 2009

Nazi looted artefacts in the UK can now return home

Posted at 1:41 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Further coverage of the new law passed to allow the return of artefacts looted during the Nazi era held in UK museums. If this law had been in place previously, it would have avoided such (unsuccessful) court cases as Attorney General v Trustees of the British Museum AKA the Feldmann Case.

It will be interesting to see how many cases now come to light following the passing of this new law (to take a cynical point of view, it could be argued that the law was only passed because certain interested parties knew that there were only a very small number of items in their collections that were likely to be affected by it).

BBC News

Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009
UK museums can return looted art

Artefacts in national museums found to have been looted by the Nazis can now be returned to their rightful owners, thanks to newly-passed legislation.

The Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act gives national institutions in England and Scotland the power to return art stolen during the Nazi era.

The bill was introduced earlier this year by Labour MP Andrew Dismore.

The act, he said, would “right a long-standing injustice” and marked “an important moral step”.

The MP for Hendon said it was “an important moral step” that had been supported by all political parties.


The law, which has been supported by all political parties, enables national museums and galleries in England and Scotland to act on the recommendations of the Spoliation Advisory Panel.

Formed in 2000, the panel resolves claims from people, or their heirs, who lost property during the Nazi era which is now held in UK national collections.

Since then there have been nine cases of artefacts held by British museums adjudged to have been stolen from their rightful owners.

However national institutions, like the British Museum or the Tate, had been forbidden from returning items by legislation preventing them from disposing of artwork in their collections.

Instead the institutions in question would make an ex-gratia payment based on a valuation of the item, in lieu of returning the item itself.

Examples of this include a £125,000 payment made by the Tate in 2001 to the former owners of a painting by Dutch artist Jan Griffier.

In 2006, the British Museum paid £175,000 to the heirs of an art collector whose Old Master drawings were stolen by the Nazis.


The new legislation allows institutions to return those disputed works of art judged to have been looted between 1933 and 1945.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, museums already have the power to return disputed items.

Culture minister Margaret Hodge said it was “a wonderful day” for families who “suffered so terribly during the Nazi era”.

“For too long families who had heirlooms stolen from them by the Nazis were unable to reclaim them, although they were the rightful owners.”

Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said this was “a great step forward” that confirmed Britain’s “commitment to providing justice”.


New British law lets museums return works stolen by Nazis
By Ofer Aderet

BERLIN – A law passed Friday in Great Britain allows national museums to return art stolen by the Nazis during World War II to their previous owners or their descendants.

Labour MP Andrew Dismore, who introduced the bill, said, the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act “rights a long-standing injustice.”

“While I do not envisage the act having to be used very frequently, this is an important moral step, to ensure that we can close yet a further chapter on the appalling crimes of the Holocaust,” Dismore said. The new law abrogates previous legislation on looted art, which prohibited national institutions from disposing of works illegally obtained during the Nazi era.

British museums are believed to house at least 20 pieces confiscated by the Nazis from Jewish owners. The new bill allows heirs of the artworks’ rightful owners to choose whether to accept the art in return or receive financial compensation from the museums.

Previously, national museums in the U.K. – which include the British Museum, British Library and National Gallery – compensated heirs who could prove their families’ ownership prior to or during the war.

In 2001, for example, Tate Britain paid 125,000 pounds to the family of the former owner of a work by Dutch painter Jan Griffier. Five years later, the British Museum paid 175,000 pounds to their heirs of an art collector from whom the Nazis had stolen several valuable works.

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge told the BBC it was “a wonderful day” for families who “suffered so terribly during the Nazi era.”

“For too long families who had heirlooms stolen from them by the Nazis were unable to reclaim them, although they were the rightful owners,” she said.

Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said this was “a great step forward” that confirmed “Britain’s commitment to providing justice.”

Lord Greville Janner, who supported the measure in the House of Lords, said, “The issue of restitution is of vital importance to me. My entire family in Lithuania and Latvia were murdered by the Nazis; the killers stole all of their property. This bill will at least give families of some Holocaust victims the power to reclaim some of their family property, which is in Britain.”

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazis confiscated half a million works of art across occupied Europe under the direction of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering. After the war, some of the works were returned to their rightful owners or their descendants, while others found their way into museums around the world or were sold to private collectors.

Experts believe there are still hundreds of thousands of artworks around the world stolen during the Nazi era which have yet to be returned to the families of their former owners.

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