Art Looting in Austria (Kunstraub in Österreich)
17-18 November 2000
Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna
The symposium was held at Vienna's Imperial Furniture Collection to coincide with the closing of the exhibition "InventARISIERT, The Looting of Furniture from Jewish Households ". It was organised by the Museology Working Group (Arbeitsgruppe Museologie) at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Education of the Universities of Vienna, Klagenfurt, Innsbruck and Graz, with the support of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and in close cooperation with the Schönbrunn GmbH and the Imperial Furniture Collection.
One key goal of the symposium was to provide factual information about the efforts made by Austrian public institutions to address the 'aryanisation' of cultural property and the scope and current state of research in this field. The lack of an information network and easily accessible information on the issue (there still is no informative internet portal on looted cultural property and restitution in Austria) were soon highlighted by the symposium.
The symposium was divided into three thematic sections, the first two of which were held on Friday 17 November 2000:
The Nazi Policy of Race and Destruction: "Aryanisation", property confiscations and art theft
In this section, art theft was discussed as an integral part of Nazi policy and its assault on the human body and possessions. The symposium here also sought to emphasise the importance of seeing a broad public discussion on the issue and the active engagement with Austria's Nazi past as a social duty.
After a Welcome Address by Dr. Gottfried Fliedl (Museology Working Group/Institute of Interdisciplinary Research), papers were given by Dr. Bertrand Perz (Historians' Commission of the Republic of Austria) and Dr.Theodor Brückler (Head of Archives, Federal Office of Historical Monuments/ Bundesdenkmalamt).There was also a report by Renate Meissner (National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism).
In his keynote paper, Bertrand Perz assessed the Austrian restitution debate, noting that it began late in comparison with other countries and observing that, whereas in Switzerland the debate on restitution was sparked by 'dormant' bank accounts and in Germany by the issue of forced labour, the Austrian debate was initiated by the issue of art. However, Perz argued, this emphasis on art should not obscure the other aspects of 'aryanisation' and restitution. The next speaker, Theodor Brückler, who is Head Archivist at the Federal Office of Historical Monuments, outlined the history of the institution in his paper Das Wiener Denkmalamt zwischen Raubkunst und Restitution (The Viennese Federal Office of Historical Monuments between Looted Art and Restitution) . The Federal Office of Historical Monuments played a key role between 1938 to 1945, administering looted cultural property and coordinating its distribution to Austrian museums and collections. Brückler also discussed the institution's post-war role in the restitution of cultural property, concluding his talk with biographical sketches of Herbert Seiberl, Otto Demus and Josef Zykan, three men closely connected with the institution during the Nazi regime and, in the case of the two latter men, in the post-war period as well. Renate Meissner sketched the role of the National Fund in relation to art restitution. She remarked that the National Fund plays an important role in the search for heirs and also stores objects when the heirs can no longer be identified.
The Podium Debate was chaired by Barbara Coudenhove-Calergi and included
Dr. Theodor Brückler (Head of Archives, Federal Office of Historical Monuments/ Bundesdenkmalamt), President ao.Univ.Prof.Dr. Clemens Jabloner (Chairman of the Historians' Commission of the Republic of Austria), Hannah Lessing (Director, National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism), Dr. Bertrand Perz (Historians' Commission of the Republic of Austria) and Dr. Doron Rabinovici (historian and author).
Part 2: Art Theft: the State of Research
This section focused on the current scope and state of research in individual museums, but also at the level of the Austrian provincial authorities.
Papers were given by Prof. Dr. Ernst Bacher, (Generalkonservator, Federal Office of Historical Monuments (Bundesdenkmalamt); Head of the Commission for Provenance Research) and Sophie Lillie, (Holocaust Victims' Information and Support Center). A report was also given by Dr. Karin Leitner (Joanneum, Styrian Regional Museum, Graz).
Prof. Dr. Ernst Bacher spoke on the role of the Commission for Provenance Research, noting that experience highlighted flaws in the 1998 Federal Act. Dr. Karin Leitner from the Joanneum in Graz (Styria) outlined the practical and methodological problems faced by museums undertaking provenance research. At the time Styria was the only Austrian province to have adopted legislation along the lines of the 1998 Federal Act.
In her paper, Sophie Lillie focused on the processes of post-war restitution, pointing out that post-war compensation has generally been paid according to need and not according to the value of the property confiscated. Critiquing the 1998 Federal Act, Lillie bemoaned the fact that claimants are denied the role of an active party and have no right of appeal if their claim is rejected, and argued that this reduces the restitutions to 'acts of mercy'. The symposium participants were united in their critical view of the 1998 Federal Act as it stands and also voiced strong criticism of the Dorotheum, the formerly state-owned auction house in Vienna, for its non-engagement with its role under the Nazi regime, when countless confiscated objects were put up for auction through it.
The Podium Debate was chaired by Dr. Peter Lachnit and included Prof. Dr. Ernst Bacher, (Generalkonservator, Federal Office of Historical Monuments (Bundesdenkmalamt); Head of the Commission for Provenance Research), Dr. Hubertus Czernin, Dr. Karin Leitner (Joanneum, Styrian Regional Museum, Graz), Sophie Lillie (Holocaust Victims' Information and Support Center) and Dr. Alfred Noll (lawyer).
The third thematic Section was held on Saturday, 18 November 2000:
Part 3: Looted Art, Cultural Heritage and Museums
Arguing that the debate on restitution in Austria has mostly been led in political and legal terms, the symposium wished to broaden the debate in this section and sought to address the issue in terms of cultural and museum policy and from a museological and historical perspective. In her paper, Dr. Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek (Jewish Museum, Vienna) critiqued the tendency of museums to address the issue of restitution merely from a 'technical-administrative' point of view and, using one object in the Jewish Museum’s study collection as an example, illustrated how museums could question their role and history as institutions in a productive way.
The Podium Debate was chaired by Dr. Eva Blimlinger (Historians' Commission of the Republic of Austria) and included Dr. Ilsebill Barta-Fliedl, (Museums of the Furniture Depository/ Museen des Mobiliendepot), Dr. Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek (Jewish Museum, Vienna), Dr. Tobias Natter (Belvedere Gallery) and Dr. Gerhard Plasser (Department of Culture, Salzburg Province).
The main conclusions reached at the symposium were:
In 2000, a book on restitution issues was published in loose connection with the symposium.
Gottfried Fliedl, '"Kunstraub"-Tagung von 17. bis 18. November im Museum 'Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot'Wien: Ein Bericht'. This report is no longer online (19 July 2007).
Central Registry Correspondence, 27 February 2003