Mu­se­ums block change in law on looted art

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY PA­TRICK STEEL

THE CO-CHAIR of the Com­mis­sion for Looted Art in Europe has con­demned a de­ci­sion by the UK’s na­tional mu­seum direc­tors to op­pose leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing the re­turn of ob­jects stolen from Jews in the Nazi-era.

Art-resti­tu­tion ex­pert Anne Web­ber said: “This rep­re­sents a com­plete volte­face by the Na­tional Mu­seum Direc­tors Con­fer­ence (NMDC), whose lead­ing mem­bers only a year ago pub­licly af­firmed the need for this leg­is­la­tion. They must not be al­lowed to pre­vail.”

The gov­ern­ment is propos­ing to change his­toric leg­is­la­tion that pre­vents the resti­tu­tion of items from na­tional mu­se­ums even in cases where it can be proved that those items have been stolen. A spokesman for the Depart­ment for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport (DCMS) said any leg­is­la­tion would ap­ply “very specif­i­cally” to items looted in the Nazi era.

But the mu­seum direc­tors have urged the DCMS not to go ahead. In a state­ment prais­ing the work of the Spo­li­a­tion Ad­vi­sory Panel which of­fers in­de­pen­dent ad­vice on claims, it said: “Since the panel has proved so ef­fec­tive, and there is no ev­i­dence of un­sat­is­fied claims, we feel that the pro­posed amend­ment… is un­nec­es­sary.”

Anne Web­ber dis­puted this, say­ing: “Their state­ment that ‘there is no ev­i­dence of un­sat­is­fied claims’ goes against the facts. Only three months ago, the Spo­li­a­tion Ad­vi­sory Panel and min­is­ter Mar­garet Hodge ex­pressed their con­cern at be­ing un­able to re­store a Nazi-looted item in the Bri­tish Mu­seum to its right­ful owner.“

A spokesper­son for the Bri­tish Mu­seum said: “We don’t think it is nec­es­sary to have ad­di­tional leg­is­la­tion. Af­ter our ex­pe­ri­ence with two cases in the past two years, we feel the cur­rent sys­tem has been a good way of re­solv­ing the cases we have had, and po­ten­tially those in the fu­ture.”

The most re­cent case in­volved a porce­lain plate that was seized by the Gestapo from a Jewish depart­ment store owner in Vi­enna in 1938.

The heir, who was paid £18,000 in com­pen­sa­tion by the DCMS and did not want to be named, said: “The plate is part of a col­lec­tion that my un­cle had. I am try­ing to re­assem­ble as much of it as pos­si­ble. Of course, I would love to have it back.

“But my case has been re­solved, so I have no idea how that would work if the new law is passed.”

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