‘Turning point’ for families seeking return of looted art
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”.
Portrait of Adele BlochBauer, by Gustav Klimt, which was seized by Nazis