Just and Fair Solutions? – Fundamentals of a Restitution Culture for Artworks Confiscated During Nazi Persecution, Käte Hamburger Kolleg, Bonn, 13 April 2021, 6 p.m. (CEST)

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Abstract by Professor Dr Matthias Weller

The Nazi regime was obsessed with art. Hitler, Göring and others built up their own “collections” and looted works of art they were interested in from everyone and everywhere, very often from persecuted persons, especially Jews. Many persecuted persons had to leave their property behind or had to sell it under duress. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of artworks in Europe were looted. Despite efforts for restitution after the war, up to an estimated 100.000 objects had remained in the hands of others than the original owners or their heirs. On 3 December 1998, 44 States, including the Federal Republic of Germany, agreed on the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. These principles are soft law, and they call on the participating states to identify works of art that were confiscated by the Nazi regime and to find “just and fair solutions” for them. In five of the 44 states, commissions such as the German Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property (Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturguts, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz) were established. Since 1998, thousands of recommendations and decisions on just and fair solutions were issued. Nevertheless, the entire process has remained strongly controversial. It is the thesis of the presentation that certain fundamentals are neglected in this process – fundamentals that must be observed in order to generate chances for “justice” and thus reconciliation. These fundamentals may form a basis of a “restitution culture” for artworks confiscated during Nazi persecution.

I would be delighted to discuss with you and the esteemed international fellows of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg about these issues. 

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