December 2012 Poland Publishes Provenance Research Guidelines

December 2012: Poland Publishes Provenance Research Guidelines
In late 2009 the Polish Deputy Minister of Culture,Tomasz Merta, set up a Team of Experts (TE) to prepare a programme of provenance research in public museums focused on objects of possible prewar Jewish owners. The first task of the six-person TE, chaired by Piotr Kosiewski of the Batory Foundation, was to prepare Provenance Research Guidelines (PRG) to guide the work of the museums, as well as a Questionnaire for the museums to fill out after the first examination of their collections. Unfortunately Minister Merta died in the air crash at Smolensk in 2010 as a consequence of which TE activity came to a standstill. However, two years later, at the end of November 2012, the TE has now published a great part of the PRG which were originally published in the Yearbook Muzealnictwo (No 53). They are available online (in Polish, with a short résumé in English) on the website of the Narodowy Instytut Muzealnictwa i Ochrony Zbiorów NIMOZ (National Institute of Museology and Collections Preservation) together with the Questionnaire and a Polish translation the 1998 Washington Principles, the 2000 Vilnius Declaration and the 2009 Terezin Declaration. 

Issues which are yet to be addressed are the oversight structure, a point of contact, the timetable for the research, its transparency and publication, and the procedure for restitution. Nonetheless, this is an encouraging step forward and it is to be hoped that further concrete developments will be announced soon. For full details of the Polish programme of Provenance Research and an English translation of the Guidelines, see below. To visit the site and read the Guidelines in Polish, click here.  

Published on the website of the Narodowy Instytut Muzealnictwa i Ochrony Zbiorów NIMOZ (National Institute of Museology and Collections Preservation) at http://www.nimoz.pl/pl/dzialalnosc/badania-proweniencji, the Polish Provenance Research Guidelines (PRG) are modeled on the German Handreichung


They contain:
1/ a short introduction
2/ a historical outline (1939-1944/45)
3/ a number of practical remarks
4/ a list of  selected Jewish collectors on the Polish pre-and postwar territory
5/ a list of selected Jewish communities, synagogues, libraries, archives and other Jewish institutions
6/ information concerning the art-market in Poland during and after WWII
7/ selected signs and labels referring to the ownership and fate of the objects
8/ a list of  the Polish post-war repositories of art objects stolen and/or hidden by the Nazis
9/ a list of  Polish archives and  relevant records
10/ a  selected bibliography
11/ links.

The PRG constitute the first quasi-official step in Poland towards the implementation of the Washington Principles of 1998 and the Terezin Declaration of 2009, both of which were endorsed by the Polish official delegation. The authors of the PRG stress that they want to encourage Polish museums to pursue provenance research and are ready to be helpful as far as possible. At the same time, they emphasize that it is not TE´s task to make or influence decisions concerning restitution of objects identified as former Jewish property.

Issues which have not yet been addressed are the oversight structure, the timetable for the research, its transparency and publication, and the procedure for restitution. 

Nonetheless, the publication of the PRG in the official Yearbook of the National Institute of Museology (see the original publication here) and Collections Preservation, whose readers are museum professionals and directors, is important. Foreign support may serve to strengthen the work and the commitment to it.

The Central Registry is grateful to Nawojka Cieslinska-Lobkowicz, an independent Polish expert on looted art and Judaica, for the provision of this information and its background.

English Summary from MUZEALNICTWO (No.53)

Zofia Bandurska, Dariusz Kacprzak, Piotr Kosiewski, Maria Romanowska-Zadrożna, Bożena Steinborn, Magdalena Tarnowska


On 21 October 2009 the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, referring to the resolutions of the Washington Conference concerning works of art confiscated by the Nazis (3 December 1998), the Recommendations of the International Council of Museums (January 1999) and Resolution no. 1205 of the Council of Europe (November 1999), accepted by the Republic of Poland, established at the Department of Cultural Heritage a Team of Experts to study the provenance of Jewish exhibits on display in Polish museums. The objective is to assess the prevailing situation and accelerate research into the origin of those museum exhibits whose history is uncertain. In other words, the task does not involve decisions about the purposefulness of eventual returns but assistance in preparing solutions of problems facing Polish museums.

The realisation of the project entailed work on a questionnaire pertaining to exhibits in Polish public collections, the former property of victims of the Holocaust: individual persons as well as religious communities and social and cultural institutions. For the purpose of research it has been necessary to adopt the terminology imposed by the authorities of the German Reich, whose ideology as well as legal and institutional solutions resulted in the Holocaust. This is why victims of the Holocaust are all those persons whom the German occupation authorities recognised as members of a group persecuted upon the basis of the Nuremberg Laws regardless of national or religious identity and self-identification.

The questionnaire asks about museum exhibits that formerly belonged to citizens and institutions in the Second Republic and Europe in those cases when there exists a suspicion that they had been taken from such persons and institutions while violating the principles of the state of law and social relations, or had been deposited in museum institutions. The questionnaire also takes into account works of art sold forcibly or purchased for, and presented to museum institutions but originally were looted (a fact of which the donor or seller could have been unaware). The group of museum exhibits whose origin is being studied is to encompass all artistic or historical objects regardless whether they were connected with Jewish culture and religion (so-called Judaica), are the property of victims of the Holocaust or belonged to art collections amassed by victims of persecution. The provenance research carried out by the Team of Experts encompassed museum exhibits that became part of Polish collections since 1939 as well as those which the German authorities looted in Germany since 1933 or in Austria after the Anschluss (1938). The date of the outbreak of the Second World War is not, therefore, a borderline delineating the range of the research.

The purpose of the research conducted by the Team of Experts is not to resolve ownership issues or determine the right to particular museum exhibits. It is merely to determine the scale of the phenomenon in question and assist studies on the monuments. Supplementation of inventory data relating to the past of the exhibits is one of the basic duties of museum experts, stressed as priority tasks by such international documents as the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art from 1998, the Vilnius Declaration of 2000, signed by the Polish authorities, suitable resolutions of the Council of Europe and ICOM from 1998 and 1999, and the Terezin Declaration accepted in Prague in June 2009.

In 2010 the Team of Experts issued, under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, a document entitled: Wskazówki do badań proweniencyjnych muzealiów pod kątem ich ewentualnego pochodzenia z własności żydowskiej. Its copious fragments, published in “Muzealnictwo”, could create an opportunity for commencing an essential discussion on this still unresolved issue.

(Article as published here)

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