For the first time, an archive is bringing together list and photos of over 20,000 works of art stolen by the Nazis from France and Belgium's Jews in a searchable internet database. According to the documentation, at least half the works of art have yet to be returned to their legal owners. Some cases involve rare and priceless works of art by world renowned masters.
The new database allows for search according to item, artist, owner and whether the item has been returned to its owner or not. Museums, art dealers and auction houses are being called to examine the listings in order to check if they are holding any of the stolen pieces. Moreover, the families and heirs of the owners are being contacted.
Unlike previous attempts to identify stolen artwork – attempts that focused on museum collections or survivor claims – the new database presents documentation of the thefts, including listings of property that has been returned to the owner, so that it is possible to know which artwork is still registered as stolen. That said, as yet, there is still no central claim protocol for items found in through the database.
The Third Reich was unprecedented in its systematic pillaging of the cultural property of Europe's Jewry through theft, boycotts, and forced sale of artwork. A special taskforce, "Operation Rosenberg" headed Nazi Party ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, collected hundreds of thousands of works of art and millions of books and archives stolen from Jews, and other victims including museums, libraries, and other cultural organizations.
Not too LateThe taskforce operated throughout areas conquered by the Nazis, and its extensions were spread out from France to Russia. "The organization of the stolen articles is an important step in repairing this historical injustice", said Julius Berman Chairman of the Claims Conference. "It isn't too late to retrieve artworks that were supposed to pass from generation to generation instead of gracing Nazi homes or being kept at sites owned by the Nazis."
The archive project is run by the Claims Conference which represents the world's Jewry in negotiating compensation and retrieving property lost to the victims and their heirs during the Nazi persecution, with technical help from the The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is based on over 20,000 stolen works of art which were handled and cataloged by the Jeu de Paume museum in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, and later transferred to Austria and Germany.
The database can be found at www.claimscon.org/artphotos
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