Presentation of the official delegation of Hungary at the Vilnius Forum
Herman Janos, Deputy State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
3-5 October 2000
Hungary sent an official delegation led by Herman Janos to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I promise to be brief. But my first words are words of gratitude to the organizers for their efficiency and hospitality. Vilnius is an ideal place for his forum.
If you let me I would like present some facts concerning Hungary's practice, concerning looted cultural assets. As you know during the last phase of World War II a great number of works of art and art collections containing important pieces that are part of our national heritage, were taken from the persons belonging to Hungarian Jewish Community. These treasures then, with a few exceptions, had been transported to Germany. After the war, newly proclaimed Republic of Hungary established the body of specialists called Ministerial Commission for Art Works Taken from Private and Public Collections, which collected data on art assets with the aim of their restitution. The significant proportion of all cultural assets are still missing. They were either destroyed or presumably looted by the soviet troops. I stress that even though it is clear that the significant proportion of all cultural property was found immediately after the Second World War was returned to Holocaust survivors. A database of cultural objects missing or unlawfully transported abroad, has been established containing the pieces of art whose owners were Holocaust victims.
1972 Soviet Union returned 15 paintings to Hungary. The majority of the owners of those 15 paintings were Holocaust victims. Already after political, big political changes in the mid 90-ties in Hungary, the question of ownership of these paintings was revised. As these works of art had been put into museums by order of party officials in communist time and not by law, their restitution became immediately possible. Four of them, as their owners were unknown were into the property of the Hungarian Jewish Community. Two of them were returned to their owners, to the hands of Jewish Community and four of them to the non-Jewish owners. The remaining paintings wait for identification of their owners.
Despite of the endeavors after the war to return cultural assets having been collected or looted from the Jewish Community, eligibly a considerable number of cultural objects are to be found in Hungarian museums. Museums keep works of art among others former property of Holocaust victims, the provenance of which is poorly documented. Some of these cultural objects are registered as unclear deposits, some others - as part of the basic collection of the museum in order to clarify what happened with some obscure acquisitions. By the initiative of the Ministry of Culture, museums since 1998 are reviewing their inventory books and sent the list of ambiguous items to the Directorate of Cultural Heritage for further investigation. To decide the future fate of these cultural assets, a lot of research is still required to clarify ownership questions. The Commission has been set up to identify art and address ownership issues with the balanced membership. For the above mentioned research, and I want to stress that relevant records are open and accessible, like all documents preserved by the public archives, the Holocaust documents are accessible according of Act 66 of 1995 on Public Archives and the Protection of Public Archives. If the researcher is convinced that the public archives unrightfully refuse to surf out any records, which are asked for scientific purposes, he can apply for legal remedy.
I want to stress, that Hungary showed during Washington, Stockholm and London conferences that we have gone very far in compensation and restitution. We want to follow this policy; we want to follow our concrete steps concerning the return of looted cultural objects. We want to find just and rightful solution concerning the cultural assets looted during the Holocaust-era on our territory. It is in this sense that we welcome this Vilnius forum; it is in this sense that we welcome Vilnius declaration and it is in this sense that we want to take part in our common efforts.
Thank you very much.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).