Art Commissions:

Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution (Beratende Kommission)


Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially from Jewish possession (Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogener Kulturguts, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz), also known as the "Looted Art Commission" ("Raubkunstkommission")

The Commission commenced its work on 14 July 2003.

On 13 December 2016, the Commission adopted and published Rules of Procedure. This arose
after much national and international prompting. Until then, it had operated without any, which meant there has been little clarity on the process and grounds for decision-making. In January 2017 an English language version of the Rules of Procedure has been published. Both documents state they date to 2 November 2016. The Rules have nine sections: the Commission's mandate, composition, how to lodge a request, the preliminary procedure, what to expect at a hearing, the criteria for decision-making and recommendations, costs, expert opinions, and a final section on the adoption of the Rules. To read them in English, click here. To read them in German, click here.

The German Advisory Commission is a joint initiative of the Federal Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs, the Länder and the National Association of Local Authorities. The body is chaired by former President of the Federal Constitutional Court Jutta Limbach and comprises two philosophers, a law professor, art historian and historian and elder statesmen, viz  Dr. Richard von Weizsäcker, former President of the German Bundestag, Professor Dr. Rita Süssmuth, the former president of the Federal Constitutional Court, the lawyer Dr. Hans-Otto Brautigam, philosopher of law Professor Dr. Dietmar von der Pfordten, the historian Professor Dr. Reinhard Rürup, the art historian Professor Dr. Wolf Tegethoff (appointed January 2009) and philosopher Professor Dr. Ursula Wolf.  

The Commission invites claims concerning cultural property looted during the Nazi period currently in the possession of public institutions in Germany, and it acts as a mediator between current possessors and former owners of cultural property. To this effect it hears cases and pronounces recommendations.

Claimants must take into consideration the principles outlined in the Joint Declaration by the Federal Government, the Länder (Federal States) and the National Associations of Local Authorities on the tracing and return of Nazi-confiscated art, especially Jewish property" of 18 December 1999. Submitting a claim to the Commission requires the consent of both parties involved and is made through the Coordination Office for Lost Cultural Property  (Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste) in Magdeburg.

Since it was founded, the Commission has heard twelve cases and made a recommendation in each. 

The first case concerned the collection of Clara and Julius Freund and the recommendation was published on 12 January 2005 in the form of a press release.  The recommendation is available in German here.  A translation into English is available here.

The second case concerned the poster collection of Dr Hans Sachs.  The recommendation was published on 25 January 2007 in the form of a press release and is available in German here.  A translation into English is available here

The third case concerned a painting from the collection of Laura Baumann.  The recommendation was published on 12 June 2008 in the form of a press release and is available in German here.  A translation into English is available here

The fourth case concerned a painting, Bauernmädchen ohne Hut mit weißem Halstuch (1897) by W. Leibl, from the collection of Alexander Lewin.   The recommendation was published on 27 January 2009 in the form of  a press release and is available in German here.   An English translation is available here.

The fifth case concerned two paintings by Karl Schmidt-Rotluff 'Gutshof in Dangast' (1910) and 'Selbstbildnis' (1920) from the collection of Robert Graetz. The recommendation to restitute was published on 18 November 2011 and is available in German here.

The sixth case concerned the Westheim heirs and the Clemens-Sells-Museum of Neuss. The recommendation was published on 28 March 2013 in the form or a single paragraph press release and is available in German here.

The seventh case concerned a Kokoschka painting In the Ludwig Museum Cologne which on 9 April 2013 the Commission ruled should be returned to the heirs of Alfred Flectheim. The heirs had claimed the painting on the grounds that the sale only took place because of persecution by the Nazis, Flechtheim having fled Germany in 1933 and his gallery in Dusseldorf having been taken over by Alexander Vömel. The Museum claimed that Flechtheim was in financial difficulties before the Nazis came to power. The Advisory Commission ruled that "it is to be assumed that Alfred Flechtheim was forced to sell the disputed painting because he was persecuted".  To read the Commission's ruling, click here. To read the Museum's press statement in which they agree to accept the ruling, click here

The eighth case concerned a claim for the Guelph Treasure (Welfenschatz) by the heirs of four art dealers against the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. On 20 March 2014 the Commission rejected the claim on the grounds that it was not a forced sale. To read the ruling, click here.

The ninth case concerned the claim for the painting Drei Grazien (Three Heirs) by Lovis Corinth by the heirs of Clara Levy of Berlin. On 14 August 2014 the Commission ruled that the painting should not be returned from the Bavarian State Painting Collections as it had not been lost due to Nazi persecution, but had probably reached New York legitimately in early 1940 to which Clara Levy's possessions had been shipped and was sold there by the dealer Curt Valentin who had no reason to tell "untruths" about the painting. To read the ruling, click here.

The tenth case concerns a von Menzel painting in the Dusseldorf Museum. On 3 February 2015 the Commission turned down the claim for the painting Pariser Wochentag by Adolf von Menzel on the grounds that its loss was not due to persecution of its Jewish owner George E Behrens, one of the owners of the bank Bankhaus L Behrens & Sons. While accepting that Behrens was subject to persecution and fled Germany as a result, the Commission rejected the claim that the painting was sold in 1935 as a result. Although there is no evidence that Behrens received the sale proceeds, the Commission took this as evidence that he probably did, asserting that in 1935 he could have had free access to his financial assets. To read the full ruling of the Commission, click here.

The eleventh case concerns a Juan Gris paintings claimed by the Flechtheim heirs. On 21 March 2016 the Commission issued a decision not to restitute a Juan Gris painting to the Flechtheim heirs. The Commission turned down the claim by the Flechtheim heirs for the Juan Gris painting 'Violinist and Inkwell' now in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf which acquired it in 1964. The heirs had claimed that the sale of the painting in London in 1934 was due to Nazi persecution but the Commission rejected this. To read the decision, click here.

The decision on the twelth case was issued on 29 April 2016 when the Commission recommended the restitution of the 'Bacchanale' painting by Lovis Corinth to the heirs of Arthur Salomon of Berlin. A businessman, he and his family were persecuted by the Nazis and their property sold at a forced sale at Lepke auction house in 1936. They fled to the Netherlands, but were deported following the Occupation. The children were murdered in Auschwitz and Arthur Salomon perished in Bergen-Belsen. Only his wife survived. The painting was acquired in 1957 by the Gelsenkirchen Museum which refused to restitute, claiming the family had been properly compensated. The Commission disagreed, saying that Arthur Salomon had not received a reasonable price for the painting in 1936 and his heirs had not received adequate compensation in 1962. To read the decision, click here.

9 March 2016: Open letter from five lawyers to the German government, Parliament and others, calling for reform of the Limbach Commission

Stating that the Commission lacks "fairness, transparency and justice" and does not meet "the internationally accepted standards and requirements of similar arbitration boards, run by the state", the five lawyers from Europe and the USA call for nine '"fundamental changes" to the operation of the Commission. The changes include appointing representatives of the victims to the Commission, the possibility of unilateral submission of claims, making decisions binding on public institutions, ensuring the Commission's independence by separating it from the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste (which provides its secretariat), bilingual process in German and English and equitable bye-laws. For full details of the changes demanded, see the letter here

22 March 2016: Press Release issued by Flechtheim heirs protesting the decision and operation of the Limbach Commission

The Flechtheim lawyers have issued a press release in response to the Limbach Commission's decision on their claim for a Juan Gris painting in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. They had withdrawn from the Commission's process at the end of February because of what they experienced as flaws in its operation and procedural irregularities, yet the Commission went ahead and issued its decision. The lawyers call for those responsible to resign and state that 'the German way of dealing with looted art is tarnished'. To read the release, click here.

20 September 2016: Questions in the German Parliament about Intended Changes to the Limbach Commission

The Die Linke party in the German Bundestag (Parliament) sent a request for information to the German federal culture minister Monika Grütters on September 20, 2016 regarding the changes being contemplated to the Beratende Kommission (Advisory Commission) on looted art, known as the Limbach Commission, The information request, available in full here, consists of 24 questions, among them the following:

 5. For what reasons are representatives of German federal states and municipalities kept informed about the status of these issues, while the Cultural Committee of the Bundestag is not?

14. Does the federal government plan to propose new members of the Commission who have not been long-serving German public servants?

15. Does the federal government plan to allow the Commission to be called upon unilaterally, that is, by one side only to a claim?

19. Does the federal government plan to require the Commission to provide information to third parties as other public bodies do, as contrasted with its current refusal to do so, set out in the argument of the Commission in the law suit pending before the Magdeburg Administrative Court, file no.6 A 81/15 (regarding the request for information by the heir of Hans Sachs,

20. Does the federal government plan to stipulate the grounds on which the Commission will make decisions (by law or otherwise), for example in the realm of the burden of proof? If not, why not? If yes, will the grounds set out in the Guidelines (Handreichung) of 2001/2007 ( be applied?

Contact Information
Dr Michael Franz
Koordinierungsstelle für Kulturgutverluste
Turmschanzenstr. 32
D-39114 Magdeburg
Tel: +49(0)391 567 391
Fax: +49(0) 391 567 3899

Source, accessed 24 November 2008 and November 2012. accessed 4 February 2015


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