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The Commission for Art Recovery was established to spur restitution efforts by European governments in order to help bring a small measure of justice into the lives of families whose art was seized, confiscated, or wrongfully taken – on a massive scale -- as a result of the policies of the Third Reich and the devastation of the Holocaust. I have been honored to serve as its chairman from its founding in 1997.

We seek to be a force of moral suasion that encourages and assists governments, museums and other public institutions to identify works of art in their collections that may have been stolen during the years of the Third Reich, to publicize information on these works on the Internet and to adopt streamlined procedures that facilitate the return of these works to their rightful owners.

The problem of stolen art must be recognized as a moral issue that can be solved only with morality as its primary basis. Art must not be withheld from the victims of the Holocaust or their heirs on the basis of legal technicalities, such as statutes of limitation, laws that purport to confiscate or nationalize stolen art or post-war "global" settlements. The art collections that were stolen represented an important aspect of the cultural lives of their owners, and the communities in which they lived, and were often assembled and treasured over several generations.

Tragically, even though sixty years have passed since the end of the Third Reich, many difficulties still remain for those who wish to find and recover their treasured possessions. Locating the missing art, if it has survived, can sometimes be impossible; even recently, it was a project for specialists who could read several languages and work in art history libraries. Moreover, even if a family is fortunate enough to locate and identify its art, the procedures and policies of the countries where the art is found still pose great obstacles to the return of the art.

Recognizing the daunting problems facing families that seek to locate and recover their art, the United States government brought together delegates from 44 countries to discuss these problems in 1998, for the first time since the end of World War II. At the end of their discussions, the nations adopted the Washington Principles – guidelines that would help individuals approach a government without the daunting time and expense involved in a lawsuit on foreign soil. These principles were reaffirmed at an international conference in Vilnius, Lithuania in October, 2000.

The Commission for Art Recovery welcomes and supports the principles adopted in Washington and Vilnius. We are committed to encouraging and assisting governments to put these principles into practice.

The Commission for Art Recovery has actively helped governments to publicize stolen art in their collections, and we are pleased to note that other public institutions are also undertaking similar efforts. The Commission for Art Recovery has also achieved the return of many works of art to their rightful owners.

Unfortunately, much work remains to be done. All governments, museums and public institutions must review their collections to identify and then publicize any art in their collections that may have been stolen. In addition, while some stolen art has been returned, the procedures for the restitution of art remain complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

The Commission for Art Recovery is working as an advocate to persuade the governments of several European countries to create a favorable environment by streamlining procedures and removing regulatory impediments for the return of the art plundered during one of history’s greatest tragedies. As you explore our website, you will learn what has been accomplished so far and the plans we have for making art restitution easier.

Thank you again for visiting our website. I am grateful that you share our interest in making certain that art stolen so many years ago is, at long last, returned to its proper owners.

Ronald S. Lauder,

About Ronald Lauder >

See Op-Ed Column by Ronald Lauder in The New York Times regarding progress in the return of art looted by the Nazis >