‘Turn­ing point’ for fam­i­lies seek­ing re­turn of looted art

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY MAR­CUS DYSCH

A MA­JOR con­fer­ence aimed at mak­ing it eas­ier for the fam­i­lies of Holo­caust vic­tims to be re­united with art­work looted by the Nazis has taken place in Bri­tain.

Global ex­perts on resti­tu­tion and spo­li­a­tion gath­ered at the Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don on Tues­day to dis­cuss ways to en­cour­age for­eign gov­ern­ments to do more on the is­sue.

Re­unit­ing items stolen from Jewish homes dur­ing the Shoah with their heirs was de­scribed as be­ing like find­ing “a nee­dle in a haystack”.

But John Glen, Min­is­ter for Arts, Her­itage and Tourism, said he hoped the con­fer­ence — 70 Years and Count­ing: The Fi­nal Op­por­tu­nity? — would be re­mem­bered as “a ma­jor turn­ing point in mak­ing it eas­ier and quicker for fam­i­lies to iden­tify and re­cover their lost art”.

Mr Glen told del­e­gates that with around 100,000 looted pieces of art still un­ac­counted for in pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions, and with fewer sur­vivors still alive, “time is of the essence”.

The gov­ern­ment set up the Spo­li­a­tion Ad­vi­sory Panel in 2000 to ex­am­ine claims about pieces in Bri­tish col­lec­tions. In the past 17 years, around 23 ob­jects have been re­turned to fam­i­lies or com­pen­sa­tion has been paid by Bri­tish in­sti­tu­tions.

The gov­ern­ment in­tends to ex­tend leg­is­la­tion to al­low po­ten­tial claimants to come for­ward be­yond 2019, the pre­vi­ously agreed date to end the process.

David Lewis, co-chair of the Com­mis­sion for Looted Art in Europe, told the 200 del­e­gates that Bri­tain wanted to share ex­am­ples of best prac­tice on what was a “moral and eth­i­cal is­sue”.

He said: “The im­por­tance to the fam­i­lies and their heirs of the looted ob­jects can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated — they are of­ten the only phys­i­cal rem- nant of fam­i­lies and lives de­stroyed.”

Simon Good­man, whose book The Or­pheus Clock, charted his search for his fam­ily’s looted treasures, said “the ob­sta­cles claimant fam­i­lies face are al­most in­sur­mount­able”.

Mr Good­man, whose fam­ily owned half the land Auschwitz was built on, said it was com­mon for as­pects of pieces of art to change, mak­ing the process akin to find­ing “a nee­dle in a haystack”.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Por­trait of Adele BlochBauer, by Gus­tav Klimt, which was seized by Nazis

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