Presentation of the official delegation of Poland at the Vilnius Forum
Stanislaw Zurowski, Vice-Minister of Culture and National Heritage
3-5 October 2000
Poland sent an official delegation led by Stanislaw Zurowski 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.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen. I permit myself to leave the longer introduction aside as I was allocated only five minutes before. Just I do not need to tell you that Jewish have been living in Poland for more than 800 years and they have produced their own, original culture, which was and is inseparable part of Polish culture on the multi-cultural landscape. And this unique world disappeared together with the substantial part of Polish cultural heritage during the years of war and occupation. And we tried three times to register these cultural losses.
The first attempt to register the losses of cultural heritage was undertaken by underground resistance movement apart from the various military tasks prepared also the state reconstruction plans after the war including the cultural reconstruction. Materials about these devastations confiscated and taken-away cultural property was secretly collected in the territory of occupied Poland and then secretly sent to London. Then they were published and I can present you the first ever-published catalog of losses published in London in 1944 in English and in Polish and what is more important as we are here attending the Vilnius Forum that certain part of this catalog covers also the losses of Jewish communities. Of course, losses of communities in bigger town, but I would like also to mention smaller towns like Krenczyno, Przedburzs, Sandomiez and Lublin because at least for some of the participants, I am sure especially from Diaspora, I am sure these names will sound familiar.
In this catalog our predecessors were able to collect also data on losses of Jewish collection like, for example, very well known collection in Warsaw collected by Brinza Nacki, then by Knonenberg family, Nataniel Davidson and other collectors also in other towns like in Krakow.
The second attempt, to register losses was undertaken after the war and during the years 1949 and 1953 there were several volumes of cultural losses catalog publishes, including portion of losses of Jewish cultural heritage in Poland. After the certain brake again, these works were continued by special office established in 1991 at the Ministry of Culture and Arts, were they collected information of on about now 500 lost objects and collections. These are the current results: 500 lost objects and collections, which we can generally say, were the losses of Jewish communities and collectors in Poland. Of course this task is very difficult of the lack of the documentation, as you know, Poland lost 1/3 of territory in the east and also was given certain territory in the west, so there were really huge migration of people, loss of property, loss of documentation. So all these events do not make the tasks easier. But despite of these difficulties, Polish authorities do not resign from further works and they have recently launched a new stage taking part in the international operation including such conferences as this - Vilnius Forum - our Prime Minister has established a special interministerial commission enabling to intensify and expand these work. The Minister of the Head of the Prime Minister Office chose the team, which is composed of the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The aim of the team is supervise and coordinate works on the implementation of the principles, adopted at Washington conference on the Nazi looted assets. In particular, Commission aims at the deeper coordination of the review of the objects' origin confiscated by the occupant authorities and which after the war reached museum collections by various means.
As it has already been mentioned, this action will be very difficult. If one considers the losses in monuments and works of art themselves as well as the present archive documentation of their collections. In addition there are also organizational difficulties including the cooperation of over 500 museums. Therefore the team monitors similar work, carried out abroad among others; it has become acquainted with the British and American experiences provided in the guidelines as well as with the experiences of other countries.
Considering outer experiences, appropriate instructions are given to the museums directors and other representatives of museums environment. The meeting of the Museum Council at the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage devoted specially to these issues was held. It has already resulted in initial decisions and it will be closed with the list of works of arts and other cultural properties, which have been saved during the war in the museums, but have been previously lost by the Holocaust victims resulting from the obvious lawlessness. Every identified work of art of such provenance will be made public in order to undertake further steps according to the Washington principles adequate to the circumstances of the given case. However, considering the presented circumstances of plunder and impossibility to identify the former owners of many cultural properties, I think even that if it will cover the majority of these objects, it should be taken into account that in accordance with Washington principles, such properties will be given appropriate notice and next they will be handed over to the museum institutions in cooperation with our Jewish communities in Poland, possibly to the museum of History of Polish Jew in Warsaw, which is being established under the auspices of the President and Prime Minister of Poland.
Thank you very much.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (23 July 2007).