The return of looted artefacts since 1945: post-fascist and post-colonial restitution in comparative perspective, Max Weber Stiftung Conference, German Historical Institute in Rome, 16-18 May 2022

Events and Conferences

PROGRAMME - in person and online event

Monday 16 May 2022

09.00 - 13.00       ICE-BREAKER OUTING [for speakers & chairs]
                            Walking tour of fascist Rome at EUR with F. Bartolini, followed by a visit
                            to the installation Unveiled storages. How to imagine a decolonial Museum,
                            former Colonial Museum, with G. Delpino & R. Di Lella

13.00 – 14.00      Informal LUNCH [for speakers & chairs]

14.00 - 15.00       REGISTRATION

15.00 - 15.30       Opening remarks
  Hans van Ess (President, Max Weber Foundation)
                            Martin Baumeister (Director, German Historical Institute Rome)
                            Joachim Bernauer (Director, Goethe-Institut, Rome)
                            Bianca Gaudenzi (GHI Rome/Konstanz/ Cambridge)

15.30 - 17.00       Panel I: REDEFINING RESTITUTION ACROSS the 1945 DIVIDE
                            Chair: Thomas Kirchner (DFK Paris)

                            Lars Müller (Saxony-Anhalt Museum Association & Leibniz Institute
                            for Regional Geography, Leipzig), Historicising claims for the return of
                            cultural heritage from colonial contexts

                            Jason Lustig (Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, Austin),
                            To the Victors go the Definitions? Looting, restitution, and the post- WWII
                            US Culture Wars

17.00 - 17.30       AFTERNOON COFFEE/TEA in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

                            Chair: Miloš Řezník (GHI Warsaw)

                            Winani Thebele (Botswana National Museum), The Restitution of
                            Cultural Property: a question of power structures and lost identity

                            Barbara Vodopivec (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy
                            of Sciences and Arts), The restitution of artworks from Austria to Yugoslavia
                            after 1945 in the new Central and Eastern European post-war reality

                            Abena A. Yalley (University of Konstanz) & Daniel Kwofie (University of
                            Professional Studies, Accra), Restitution is Equal to What? The assassination
                            and return of the head of Badu Bonso II by the Dutch and its implications for
                            the Ahanta people of Ghana


19.30-20.00        APERITIVO in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

20.00                  KEYNOTE SPEECH: Bénédicte Savoy (TU Berlin)
                           A Monument to Burnt Villages?
                           On the consequences of radical transparency in museums
                           Introduced by Hans van Ess (President, Max Weber Stiftung)

21.00                  DINNER [for speakers & chairs]

Tuesday 17 May 2022

9.00- 11.00         Panel III: A MULTIPLE BURDEN. Tackling colonial, Nazi and
                           GDR- era provenances together

                           Chairs: Thomas Maissen (GHI Paris) & Bénédicte Savoy (TU Berlin)

                           Christine Howald (Zentralarchiv - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin),
                           Traces of Loss – Asian objects from Jewish collections in German museums

                           Mattes Lammert (TU Berlin/DFK Paris), Displacement of Displaced Objects.
                           Paris, a trading hub of antiquities under German Occupation

                           Xenia Schiemann (TU Berlin), Restitutions behind the Wall? Art market and
                           claims for the return of looted cultural goods between the GDR and the West

11.00-11.30        MORNING COFFEE/TEA in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

                           Chair: Simone Lässig (GHI Washington)

                           Jonathan Bach (The New School, NY), The Object as a Site of Reckoning
                           in Germany’s Layered Pasts

                           Borbála Klacsmann (Independent researcher), “In Conflict with the Moral
                           Mindset of the Hungarian People”: anti-Jewish notions in the restitution to
                           Hungarian Holocaust survivors

                           James McSpadden (University of Nevada, Reno), Looted Nazi and Holocaust-Era
                           Books in the United States and the Changing Rationales for Restitution

13.30 - 14.30      LUNCH in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

                           Chair: Christina von Hodenberg (GHI London)

                           Shlomit Steinberg (Israel Museum), Dr. Gurlitt and I

                           Staffan Lundén (University of Gothenburg), The Benin bronzes. Whose
                           stories get told, silenced or neutralised?

                           Shauna Isaac (Independent researcher, London), Portrait of Wally: the first
                           major restitution case and its influence on restitution in the last two decades

                           Veronika Rudorfer (KunstForum Wien), Another Form of Restitution? Possibilities
                           and problems of contemporary artistic practices dealing with questions of restitution

17.00-17.30        AFTERNOON COFFEE/TEA in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

17.30-20.30        AFTERNOON OUTING [for speakers & chairs]
                           Walking tour of the Jewish Quartier with A. Osti Guerrazzi, followed by aperitivo

21.00                  DINNER [for speakers & chairs]

Wednesday 18 May 2022

                           A LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

                           Chairs: Birgit Schäbler (Orient-Institut Beirut) & Arianna Visconti (Catholic
                           University, Milan)

                           Leora Bilsky & Rachel Rachel Klagsbrun (Buchmann Faculty of Law &
                           Minerva Center for Human Rights, Tel Aviv University), Beyond Restitution:
                           from Jewish Cultural Reconstruction to the Sarr-Savoy Report – challenging
                           the private property paradigm

                           Tabitha Oost (University of Amsterdam), A Changing “Moral” Paradigm in
                           an Entangled Restitution Debate: lessons learned for the restitution of Nazi-Looted
                           and colonial cultural objects

                           Benno Nietzel (University of Bielefeld), Collective and Individual Claims in the
                           Restitution of Cultural Property

11.00 - 11.30      MORNING COFFEE/TEA in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

                           Chair: Christian K. Neumann (LMU Munich)

                           Achia Anzi (University of Amsterdam & Jindal University, Delhi), Institution,
                           Destitution, Restitution: how to decolonise the museum?

                           Flaminia Bartolini (ISPC/CNR & British School at Rome), Renegotiating the
                           past at the ex-Colonial Museum in Rome

                           Dan Hicks (Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford), The Brutish Museums

13.30 - 14.30      LUNCH in the garden [for speakers & chairs]

                           Chair: Ilaria Pavan (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa)

                           Francesca Cavarocchi (University of Florence), Lost in Transition:
                           postwar Italy facing claims for cultural objects by its former colonies

                           Simona Troilo (University of L’Aquila), The Slow Restitution.
                           The return of colonial artifacts in Republican Italy

                           Beatrice Falcucci (University of L’Aquila), The Colonial Museum
                           in Rome and Requests for Repatriation: the Libyan case

16.30 - 17.00      A CHAT with the ARTISTS
                           Exhibition The UnArchivable. Colonial roots and decolonial ways,
                           KunstRaum Goethe-Institut (Foyer)

17.00 - 17.30      AFTERNOON COFFEE/TEA [for speakers & chairs]

17.30 - 19.00      Final Roundtable: Italy’s post-fascist & post-colonial memory through
                           material culture

                           Chair: Bianca Gaudenzi (GHI Rome/Konstanz/Cambridge)

                           Valeria Deplano (University of Cagliari)
                           Donata Levi (University of Udine)
                           Igiaba Scego (writer)
                           Emanuele Pellegrini (IMT Lucca)
                           Uoldelul Chelati Dirar (University of Macerata)

19.00 - 19.30      Concluding remarks
                           Bianca Gaudenzi (GHI Rome/Konstanz/Cambridge)
                           Lutz Klinkhammer (Vice-Director, GHI Rome)
                           Martin Baumeister (Director, GHI Rome)

19.30                  End of the conference


Please register by Thursday 12 May 2022:

PDF of programme here


Pre-Conference Text

Over the past decades the restitution of cultural property has come to the forefront of both public and academic debates. Besides the well-established provenance research into Jewish-owned cultural property, postcolonial restitution has increasingly become the epicentre of fierce disputes, as in the case of the contested Benin bronzes or the repatriation of the Cape cross stone to Namibia. The controversy over the Humboldt Forum’s world collections and BLM protests further exacerbated the matter. As a result, the restoration of material culture has now risen to one of the central facets of post-authoritarian justice, which historians have yet to analyse in more comprehensive terms.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the restitution of Jewish-owned cultural artefacts has come to be interpreted as a conditio sine qua non for post-fascist transitional justice, and the process of Vergangenheits-bewältingung more broadly. Discourses surrounding colonial restitution, however, are often still marred by racialist or orientalist conceptions of conservation, ownership and fruition. The shift from the ‘legal’ to the ‘moral’ paradigm which emerged in many Nazi-looted restitution cases is also still rather unusual for post-colonial instances. Why? A certain institutional reticence in decolonizing museums plays a role, for sure, but the issue is mostly geschichtspolitisch, as if on one side most ex-colonial powers are still struggling to come to terms with their past, on the other the Holocaust, despite its ‘universalization’, is still regarded as a unique historical process, which cannot and should not be compared to anything else.

While the glaring differences between the fascist and the colonial experiences are undisputable, the similarities in post-fascist and post-colonial restitution practices and discourses and their political-historical significance beg further inquiry. This appears crucial to better understand not only the political relevance of heritage and its role in memory- and nation-building vis-à-vis the rise of human rights, but also the persistence of anti-Jewish and racist stereotypes in the post-1945 world order and the recurrence of restitution motives in present-day nationalist propaganda.

The aim of this conference is to address this set of discrepancies by historicizing them. Are there any similarities between post-fascist and post-colonial restitution cases, and if so why? Can post-authoritarian restitution be regarded as a conditio sine qua non of transitional justice? What role did the rise of human rights and the new international agencies for heritage protection play? How far can ‘good-will gestures’ be understood as evidence of neo-colonialist attitudes? Can the centrality of property to identity or the shift from community to individual restitution be interpreted as an outcome of the global triumph of neoliberalism? In order to address these issues, the conference encourages papers on both the discursive and practical aspects of restitution, which examine the themes, the praxis as well as the transfer of knowledge at national, transnational and global level.

While the literature on the subject of restitution has achieved a tremendous growth over the last decades, a substantial part of this impressive bulk of studies focuses on the in-depth analysis of individual actors or the fate of specific collections or artworks. As a result, the field remains highly compartmentalized along national, disciplinary and thematic boundaries. The geographical and chronological spread of studies also still proves rather uneven. This conference aims to overcome these fragmentations by establishing connections between post-authoritarian restitution instances across institutional and national borders since the end of World War II.

We welcome papers on the following themes:

The conference language is English. Papers will be pre-circulated two weeks before the conference. Please send a proposal of max 400 words, accompanied by a short CV, to Bianca Gaudenzi ( by 1 September 2021.

Dates: 16 - 18 May 2022
Location: German Historical Institute in Rome


© website copyright Central Registry 2022