Activities by Country

The Commission for Art Recovery held its first meeting in Poland with government officials in the Office of the President in March, 2000. Although the Polish government passed legislation in 1997 providing for the return of Jewish communal property, no legislation has been enacted mandating the return of stolen art. Government officials have indicated that it might take two years or more for additional restitution legislation to become law.

In subsequent meetings with Franciszek J. Cemka, Director of the Department of Protection of the National Domain, we discussed what Polish museums and the government could do without special legislation. The officials welcomed the Commission’s assistance in discussing immediate procedures that could be established for the return of property stolen from Jews and others during the Holocaust.

The Commission for Art Recovery also presented an Action Plan to Director Cemka as a guide going forward. Recognizing that Poland has a unique history and that its cultural heritage suffered greatly under Nazi domination, the Commission for Art Recovery as a representative of Nazi victims received a warm reception.

In a subsequent meeting in June, 2000, the Director of National Museums asked for a summary of developments in other countries, which the Commission sent in August, 2000.

In November, 2000, the Commission met with Stanislaw Zurowski, Under-Secretary of State in Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. At this meeting, the Commission pressed for further action by Poland in the restitution of art stolen during the Holocaust.

On April 3, 2001, former Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek created a new, high-level commission, to be known as the Inter-Departmental Group on Restitution of Cultural Heritage to handle the issue of the effects of World War II on cultural heritage. The Commission was created pursuant to (Order No.22) of the President of the Council of Ministers. The members of the commission include the following individuals:

Grazyna Bernatowicz – Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Stanislaw Zurowski – Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage

Wojciech Kowalski - Senior Advisor to the Minister in the Secretariat of the Foreign Affairs Ministry

Maciej Musial – Principal of the Office of the President of the Council of Ministers, Chairman of the Commission

The Commission for Art Recovery hopes that newly-elected Prime Minister Leszek Miller will continue the new commission, and the Commission for Art Recovery looks forward to working with the government of Prime Minister Miller on the restitution of Holocaust-era cultural property.

On May 30, 2001, Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, the Chairman of the Commission of Art Recovery, wrote to Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, the Foreign Minister of Poland. In his letter, Ambassador Lauder stated that, under international law, Poland may not assert ownership interests in art and cultural objects looted from Jews during the Holocaust. Ambassador Lauder also stated that there is good reason to believe that art looted from Jews is now located outside Poland and that, since Poland is the nation that first bore the brunt of Nazi aggression and the nation whose Jewish population suffered the worst degradation during the Holocaust, Poland should be actively leading efforts to identify and recover art and cultural objects removed from Poland during the Holocaust. Ambassador Lauder also informed the Foreign Minister that the Commission for Art Recovery would welcome the opportunity to assist the government of Poland in an effort to recover art and other cultural objects looted from Jews during the Holocaust. The Commission’s offer of assistance is, of course, available to the government of Leszek Miller that was elected on September 23, 2001. In this letter,   (note: if you do not have Acrobat Reader™ click here to download) Ambassador Lauder stated that Polish museums and other state-owned or sponsored entities are currently holding art and cultural objects looted from Jews during the Holocaust and that under international law, Poland may not assert ownership of these items and, indeed, is obligated to both identity and return them. Ambassador Lauder included with his letter   (note: if you do not have Acrobat Reader™ click here to download) a memorandum that summarized Poland’s obligations under international law with respect to Holocaust-looted art.

The Commission for Art Recovery is continuing to pursue the claim of the Sachs family for various works of art stolen during the Holocaust that was brought to the attention of the National Museum and the Polish government in our first meeting with the museum and government officers This claim covers the following works of art:

Abraham Mignon, Flowers, Oil on canvas: 102 x 84 cm.

Bartholomeus Breenburgh, Christ amongst the Ruins on the way to Emmaus,
Oil on canvas: 31 x 51 cm.

Bartolommeo di Giovanni, Adoration of Christ, Oil on wood: 85 cm. (diameter).

Jan Weenix, Hunting Dog Over a Dead Boar, Oil on canvas: 123 x 98.9 cm.

The Commission has been assured by the Polish government that the Sachs claim is being given serious consideration, and we are hopeful of a favorable resolution of this claim.

The Commission has also submitted to Under-Secretary Zurowski, the claim of Martha Nierenberg for the following painting, which is also located in the National Museum in Warsaw:

Gustave Courbet, Landscape in the Neighborhood of Ornans, 1865, Painted on canvas, 67 x 126 cm..

Mrs. Nierenberg inherited the painting from her mother, Erzsébet Herzog Weiss, the daughter of, the daughter and heir of Baron Mór Lipót Herzog, who assembled one of the premier art collections in Hungary prior to the institution of anti-Semitic policies in Hungary. The painting was forcibly taken from Erzsébet Herzog in Hungary in 1944 by either Hungarian government authorities or Nazi occupation forces.


Republic of Poland

1. It is the policy of the Republic of Poland that, in recognition of the internationally recognized moral obligation confirmed by the Principles of the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets:

(i) all works of art that were taken from Polish citizens of Jewish origin during the period 1939-1945 either by the occupation forces of the German Third Reich or by Polish or German civil authorities, or otherwise looted by military or civilian authorities or unknown persons when the owners fled Nazi armed forces or were murdered or sent to concentration camps before hostilities ended, and that are currently in the custody or possession of the Republic of Poland or any entities or organizations controlled or subject to regulation by the Republic of Poland, shall be returned to their rightful owners, and

(ii) no legal impediments, such as statutes of limitations, preclusion periods or postwar global settlements shall be allowed to prevent the return of this art, which includes, but is not limited to, art forcibly taken from Jewish owners, art that Jewish owners were forced to sell at distress sales, art sold at "Jew auctions" and art that Jewish owners were prompted to relinquish.

2. The government of the Republic of Poland will take an active role, in cooperation with the Commission for Art Recovery of the World Jewish Congress, in order to locate heirs of Holocaust victims or other rightful owners of art in Polish custody having incomplete or dubious provenance during the years of 1939 - 1945. A list of such works will be prepared and updated as necessary. The list will be published (in Polish and English) on an Internet site to enable potential claimants to locate their works of art. This Internet site will illustrate each artwork and provide, for each item, the name of the artist, its title and, to the extent known, its dimensions and provenance. In addition, the Internet site will include "user-friendly" search mechanisms. The availability of the Internet site will be widely advertised internationally by the Republic of Poland in leading newspapers, media and on the Internet. The Internet site also will be regularly updated with additional information as it becomes available.

3. The government of the Republic of Poland will facilitate and coordinate the return of the art currently held or controlled by the government and government-controlled or regulated organizations. A "Claims Office" will be designated as the central clearinghouse for the receipt of all inquiries by claimants for art, in effect, a "one-stop shop." The office will coordinate a review of archives, records and other materials that may have any bearing on any inquiry or claim. To further assist claimants in the claims process, a "Guide to the Art Claims Process" will be published and widely distributed in print and on the Internet. The guide will explain in detail the claims process and provide the addresses, telephone and facsimile numbers and email addresses for the contact persons in the Claims Office. The Guide will also detail examples of the documentation or other evidence that will be required to substantiate a claim for art; but it will also make clear that such examples will not be exclusive and that other evidence will also be considered. Each claimant will receive a written response from the Claims Office within three weeks of receipt of the claim. The response will either acknowledge the validity of the claim and request the claimant to contact the Claims Office to arrange for the return of the art or will, clearly and in detail, explain what type of further documentation to substantiate the claim may be needed. The response will include the name of an official to contact to resolve any issues concerning the claim. Art that is confirmed as belonging to a claimant will be promptly returned to the claimant.

4. After the completion of the claims process, art that is not claimed after a reasonable period of time shall be deemed to be held, in trust, on indefinite loan, until such art shall be claimed by true owners in accordance with the foregoing procedures.

5. The Republic of Poland may acquire any art that is not claimed after a reasonable period of time by payment of fair market prices approved by the Commission for Art Recovery. As a matter of historic soundness, the Jewish provenance of such art, as well as its acquisition by the Republic of Poland, will be noted in an appropriate form (e.g., plaques, etc.) if such art is publicly displayed in museums, government offices or other public institutions.

6. The Republic of Poland will prepare periodic (but at least semi annual) reports for the public on the progress of the return of the art. These reports will be published in print form and will be made available on the Internet.

7. In order to provide for the protection of claimants who reside in the United States, procedures will be adopted to ensure that the return of any art to any claimants will comply with tax–exemption provisions of applicable treaties and laws, if any.

8. The Republic of Poland believes that the art taken out of the country by the Soviet occupation forces as the result of World War II and the post-war Communist regime may include works of art looted by the Nazis from Jews during the period 1939 - 1945. The effort of the Republic of Poland to recover this art is an integral part of the program to restitute art to rightful Jewish owners. To the extent that any of this art is returned to Poland, the Republic of Poland will handle this art in accordance with the principles set out in this plan, and, in particular, paragraphs 2, 3 and 4.