Art Commissions :

German Advisory Commission - Changes proposed by Hermann Parzinger, President of the SPK on 28 November 2015

In a speech at the conference of the Deutsches Zentrum Kultur-gutverluste (DZK) on 28 November 2015 in Berlin, Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, SPK)) made a number of remarks which added up to a surprisingly clear call for a change of current standards of the Limbach Commission and an overhaul of the way the Commission works.

His proposals were the following:

1. That the Commission should also act if it is called upon by only one of the two parties to a dispute. Currently it only acts if both sides agree.
2. That the administration of the Commission should be carried out by an independent secretariat and not the DZK. This must probably be seen in the context that the DZK's task is to advise e.g. museums when they are confronted with claims, but at a later state may have to act for the Commission which should be neutral. Also the heir of the collector Hans Sachs recently questioned the neutrality of the Commission in a law suit at the Magdeburg Administrative Court. He said that the Koordinierungsstelle, a forrunner of the DZK, had originally advised the Deutsches Historisches Museum, assisting it on how to handle the restitution claim, while it later, in 2008, acted as the secretariat of the Commission which decided on the claim.
3. That there should be transparency, primarily in connection with the research of museums, as many currently do not publish their findings if they come to the conclusion that a work was not lost due to Nazi persecution. This may also relate to the Limbach Commission which is currently denying the Sachs heir access to the files of the 2008 procedure, and which is the cause for the current court case in Magdeburg.
4. That the Commission should have procedural rules like any arbitration body.
5. That a representative of a Jewish organisation be on the Commission.
Taken all together these changes would make the Commission a very different kind of Institution. Parzinger's proposals met with no opposition during the DZK 's conference.

Parzinger also stressed, like the German Cultural Minister Monika Grütters the day before, that there should be no doubt that the persecution of Jews in Germany started in 1933. This was apparently a reaction to criticism by Holocaust historians concerning a remark in a brief to a US Court related to the Guelph Treasure and to the publication here of an English translation of the Commission's Recommendation in the case of Behrens v. Düsseldorf in which the Advisory Commission had held that Jewish bankers had not been persecuted and had unimpaired access to the courts till mid 1935.

Parzinger also emphased that German cultural institutions confronted with claims must show (in cases of allegedly forced sales) that the price paid to a persecuted person was fair and that the persecuted person actually received the money at his/her free disposal, the implication being, contrary to the Behrens decision made by the Commission, that the work of art be considered looted if both conditions are not met. In its recommendation the Commission also deviated from the policies set out in the 'Handreichung', first issued in Germany in 2001.