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Holocaust Restitution & Reparations: Websites to Help Find Art Stolen by Nazis

International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property

Launched in 2011, the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property is a collaboration of national and other archival institutions with records that pertain to Nazi-Era cultural property. These archival institutions, along with expert national and international organizations, are worked together to extend public access to the widely-dispersed records through a single internet portal. The portal enables families to research their losses, provenance researchers to locate important documentation, and historians to study newly accessible materials on the history of this period. The collaborative project was established to fulfill the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, the 2000 Vilnius Forum Declaration and the 2009 Terezin Declaration, in particular on the importance of making all such records publicly accessible.

The portal links researchers to archival materials consisting of descriptions of records and, in many cases, digital images of the records that relate to cultural property that was stolen, looted, seized, forcibly sold, or otherwise lost during the Nazi-era. Cultural property documented in these records covers a broad range from artworks to books and libraries, religious objects, antiquities, archival documents, carvings, silver and more.

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The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal

The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal provides a searchable registry of objects in U.S. museum collections that changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era (1933-1945). The website provides a single point of contact to dozens of U.S. museum collections for people researching lost objects and helps U.S. museums fulfill their responsibility to make information about objects in their collections centrally accessible.

From the time it came into power in Germany in 1933 through the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazi regime orchestrated a program of theft, confiscation, coercive transfer, looting, pillage, and destruction of objects of art and other cultural property in Europe on a massive and unprecedented scale. Some confiscated objects were sold to fund Nazi activities, while others were retained for the private collections of high-ranking party officials.

U.S. museums were closely involved in the recovery and restitution of looted art after the war. During the post-war occupation of Germany, art historians and museum curators serving with the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Commission operated collecting points where discovered loot was inventoried, catalogued, and returned to countries of origin. Through these efforts, many thousands of works were repatriated to their countries of origin and often were returned to their rightful owners.

As publicly accountable institutions, U.S. museums are working openly to resolve the status of objects in their custody. Through its professional associations, the American Association of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the U.S. museum community has adopted a set of Recommended Procedures for investigating Nazi-era cultural assets. These procedures call for research into the provenance, or ownership history, of all art objects in U.S. museum collections that changed hands in Continental Europe from 1933 to 1945. They also call on museums to make the resulting information available to the public.

Contact Information:
Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal
American Association of Museums
1575 Eye St. N.W., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: (202) 289-9121
Fax: (202) 289-6578

Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume

Launched in October 2010, the database was created with the support of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and provides information on over 20,000 works of art stolen by Nazis from their Jewish owners during the 1930s and 1940s. The database should prove useful not only to the victims of Nazi plunder or their heirs but also to historians, provenance researchers, museum curators, art dealers, and anyone interested in cultural life in France during the inter-war period as well as general matters of Nazi cultural policy.

The creation of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) was a direct result of the professed ideological objective of the Reich leadership to ‘study’ Jewish life and, in particular, Jewish culture. The architect of this pseudo-academic and propaganda undertaking was Alfred Rosenberg. In order to fulfill his ambitious mission, Rosenberg proposed to collect archives, books, and related materials that his cohort of antisemitic scholars and specialists could examine under the aegis of an institution devoted to anti-Jewish studies. The Institute for Research on the Jewish Question (IEJ), established in Frankfurt, which Rosenberg opened in March 1940, was an important first operating segment of the university-level ideologically oriented Hohe Schule for the future Nazi elite that Rosenberg planned to establish in Bavaria after the war. The search for archives and books for the IEJ and other Hohe Schule institutes shaped the initial contours of the campaign of plunder that Alfred Rosenberg was soon to implement in newly-occupied territories. The German invasion of Western Europe and, specifically, of France offered the first major opportunity for Rosenberg to collect massive amounts of materials from archives, libraries, and cultural institutions.

Postwar recovery and repatriation of the ERR art loot was possible because of the careful detail with which the ERR documented and photographed many of the art objects that it seized. The database consists of historical data extracted and culled from archival documents primarily located in three major international archival repositories. The basic description of the objects processed by the ERR in the Jeu de Paume is found on cards that their staff typed. These cards contain the description of the art objects and are now stored at the National Archives in College Park, MD, among U.S. postwar restitution files within the records of the United States Office of Military Government. The photographs of the art objects described on the ERR cards come from NARA and also from the Bundesarchiv (Federal Archives) in Koblenz, Germany, found among the records of the West German restitution office, the Trust Administration for Cultural Assets, as part of incorporated collections of documents and photographs pertaining to art-looting in German-occupied Europe and postwar restitution efforts in western Germany. The TVK – and hence its records – was a successor to the United States occupation government cultural restitution program described below. Also among the TVK records, the database also draws on data from the original ERR inventories prepared during the war, including shipping inventories to repositories in Bavaria and Austria.

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Sources: ERR Project, Jerusalem Post, The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal