Post-War And Present Record In Restitution

From the time Hitler became Germany's Chancellor in January, 1933, it became increasingly difficult for Jews to function in society, education, law, business, and in the arts. Early in the decade, some were able to sell their art to finance their emigration, often in tainted transactions with buyers taking advantage of the plight of the Jewish sellers. Wholesale art theft by the government, which then sold off the art at what they called "Jew Auctions" (with the proceeds going to Hitler Youth or some other Nazi organization) soon became commonplace. Before the war, buyers could come from and export to any country at all, so the works were scattered. During this time, Jews were in peril and any sales are considered to be forced sales.

The publication of Lynn H. Nicholas's The Rape of Europa, translated into many languages, was the first comprehensive history of Nazi art theft to appear in the 1990s; it brought wide attention to the history and unfinished business. A recently published book, Lost Lives, Lost Art, provides newly researched biographies of some German and Austrian collectors who suffered and some of whom were killed.

The organized art thefts in Nazi-occupied France (Paris fell in June 1940) perhaps have been the subject of more attention than those in Germany itself. A new database provides immense detail and searching capability of the records kept by the meticulous agency in charge: the Special Task Force of Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, ERR). Trucks pulled up to the homes and businesses of Jewish collectors and art dealers, and took masterpieces old and modern. Modern ones were traded to dealers who had paintings more to the Nazis' taste, and these were sold off, with some choice pieces going to Swiss collectors. These stories were brought to public attention in the mid-1990s by Hector Feliciano's The Lost Museum, a book that focused on a few French families, prominent dealers and collectors.

Restitution in Germany began shortly after the end of the war and continued for decades. Eventually, unclaimed art was nominally placed in the care of a foundation but physically distributed to museums and government offices all over the new republic. The tainted past of these works was largely forgotten until the Commission for Art Recovery brought it to Germany's attention in 2000. Since then the federal government and the governments of the Länder (or States) gave more official attention to the issue. A high-profile recovery the Commission achieved for the heirs of Gustav and Clara Kirstein was capped with a ceremony near the Brandenburg Gate in September 2001, with the US Ambassador, the then minister of culture of Germany, and Ronald Lauder attending as Germany handed several of the 80-plus recovered works to a member of the family. It was a huge step in an effort to raise public awareness and move German government policies toward a more open stance to claimants.  Germany set up new channels for restitution claims, and some returns such as a painting by Wilhelm Leibl, have been completed without litigation.

Restitution made easier for Bavarian museums, The Art Newspaper, April 2011

MUNICH. Returning Nazi-looted works of art has become much easier and less costly for Bavarian museums following a change in law that means the German state no longer has to be reimbursed when works are handed back to their rightful owners. The decision was made in parliament at the beginning of April and is valid for all returns made after 1 January this year. “The former regulation was absurd. Museums that wanted to return works were punished,” Sepp Dürr, a member of parliament for the opposition's Green Party told The Art Newspaper. Dürr proposed the change in law, but despite coming from the opposition party, the bill was backed by a majority in parliament. “There had been earlier attempts to find a solution and when this suggestion was made we reacted positively to it,” said a spokeswoman for the Bavarian ministry of culture . Previously, laws that protect capital reserves meant that the Bavarian ministry of finance required museums to pay the state a sum equal to the value of any restituted works. The condition had been heavily criticised as it made it more complicated to return works.
Restitution made easier for Bavarian museums, The Art Newspaper, April 2011

A relevant provision was introduced into the Bavarian Budget Law for the budgets 2011 and 2012, dated April 14, 2011 to resolve the embarrassing situation that Bavarian State museums had to pay compensation in the case of restitution of a work of looted art from their collection.

Article 8 para. 10 of the Law provides:
(10) Das Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst wird ermächtigt, das Eigentum an zum Grundstockvermögen gehörigen und in seiner Verwaltung befindlichen Kulturgütern, die entsprechend der „Erklärung der Bundesregierung, der Länder und der kommunalen Spitzenverbände zur Auffindung und zur Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturgutes, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz“ von 1999 als NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogen zu gelten haben, den Berechtigten unentgeltlich zu übertragen.

Translation: (10) The State Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts is authorized to transfer ownership in assets that are part of the State’s fundamental assets and under the administration of the Ministry to claimants if such assets must be deemed to have been lost due to prosecution in accordance with the “Common Declaration of the Federal Government, the Länder and the national associations of local authorities regarding the identification and return of cultural goods that were lost due to prosecution, in particular by Jewish owners” from 1999.

Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger (1510-1558)

Georg Pencz, Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger (1510-1558)Recovered

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