Written by Filip Strubbe of the Belgium State Archives in 2013, the detailed inventory of the DER - ORE files in the Belgium State Archives is an invaluable resource for research into the occupation and post-war period.
The inventory can be accessed as a PDF here.
It is on the Belgium State Archives website in Dutch at https://search.arch.be/nl/zoeken-naar-archieven/zoekresultaat/ead/index/zoekterm/ore/eadid/BE-A0545_006785_006783_DUT as 'Inventaris van het archief van de Dienst voor Economische Recuperatie en rechtsvoorganger (ORE). Individuele dossiers.'.
In his introduction to the Inventory, Filip Strubbe writes:
"The German invasion of Belgium on 10 May 1940 disrupted the economic life and goods traffic. Numerous belongings, ranging from cargo to luggage containing private property, were abandoned or lost in the turmoil of war. The huge amount of requests for restitution addressed to the Belgian government in exile in Poitiers led to the enactment of the decree-law of 3 July 1940 stipulating the creation of a Department for Identification and Liquidation of abandoned Belgian Goods (Dienst voor Identificering en Vereffening van onbeheerde Belgische goederen/Office d’Identification et de Liquidation des Marchandises belges spoliées). The department returned home to Brussels in July 1940 together with a stream of fellow countrymen who had fled the war. On 31 March 1941, the secretaries-general set up a new Department for Identification and Liquidation of abandoned Belgian goods belonging to Belgian Natural or Legal Persons (Dienst voor Identificering en Vereffening van Verdwenen en Onbeheerde Belgische Goederen Toebehorende aan Belgische Natuurlijke of Rechtspersonen (DIV)/Office d’Identification et de Liquidation des Marchandises belges spoliées appartenant à des personnes morales ou de droit belges (OIL)) that tacitly took over the competences of its exiled predecessor. With the occupation progressing, the competences of the DIV/OIL were extended.
On 16 November 1944, shortly after the liberation of the Belgian national territory, the Department for Economic Recovery (DER) was set up, taking over the duties of the Department for Identification and Liquidation. The DER was the sole Belgian office responsible for tracing, recovering and liquidating lost movable goods of Belgian private or public possession in Belgium or abroad during the Second World War. In early 1945, the DER was also assigned with the tracing of enemy military equipment. By virtue of the final agreement of the Paris Peace Conference, the DER became responsible for war reparations by means of industrial compensations in kind. Beside these economic activities, the DER also had a culture office commissioned to identify and restitute stolen works of art. In the course of the 1950s, the restitution policy slowly but surely lost importance compared to the expanding economic tasks of the DER. The DER would not only work to support the Belgian coal and flax industries, it also played a role in foreign trade relations and was entrusted with certain tasks within the framework of the science policy, in particular the Belgian participation in the European space programme.
In the 1960s, the economic emphasis of the duties of the DER led to a review of the department’s statutes. For this purpose, the DER was dissolved by the Royal Decree of 10November 1967 and its services were merged with the Commercial Office for Provisioning (Handelsdienst voor Ravitaillering (HDR)/Office Commercial du Ravitaillement (OCRA)) to form a new body, the Belgian Office for Economy and Agriculture (Belgische Dienst voor Bedrijfsleven en Landbouw (BDBL)/Office belge de l'Economie et de l'Agriculture (OBEA))."
He writes further:
"The DER was the sole competent authority for carrying out the post-war recovery policy and coordinating reparations. What makes the DER’s archives even more interesting with regard to its content is the “Gestalt switch”, the change of form that occurred in the 1950s: as the importance of recovering ships, commodities, industrial goods and pieces of art decreased, the DER got more and more involved in supporting the Belgian industry and foreign trade relations. The minutes of the management board of the DER often contain statistical data and reports as annexes and bear witness of this evolution.
As far as the manner of working of the DER is concerned, the files and documents from the Directorate Recovery are of particular interest. The archive documents about the recovery of stolen pieces of art form a distinct sub-fonds. The state and identification files for the stolen artworks are, together with the dossiers about the recovery policy of the Belgian authorities, a particularly precious source for historical research. As the whereabouts of most stolen pieces of art have not yet been elucidated until today, the archive documents related to these unrecovered artworks still have a potential administrative value. The Directorate Recovery was also tasked with the recovery of ship cargo (during the occupation, this task was executed by the Department for Identification and Liquidation) and ships (files opened by the DER). The overviews and files of this part of the archive give insight into the relations between the DER and foreign authorities, among which the Allied Powers, the French authorities and later also the German authorities.
The archival lot pertaining to the reparations provides a detailed view of the goods given to Belgium within the framework of the distribution of compensations among the Western Allies. This part contains annual reports and other records of the Belgian delegation to the Inter-Allied Reparations Agency (IARA) as well as inventories of German business companies and factories that were broken up to the advantage of Belgium.
Finally, the part about government operations holds files and documents concerning the coordination or mediation role that the DER played in both the Belgian industrial sector (in particular the protection of the flax and mining industries) and foreign trade relations. With regard to the latter, the archive files provide details about the settlement of the outstanding debts towards Turkey, and import and export to East Germany."
The full introduction can be read in the inventory.
To access it, alternative sources are at https://www.archives.gov/files/research/holocaust/international-resources/belgium-inventory.pdf or https://irp2.ehri-project.eu/static/belgium-inventory.pdf.
The successor organisation today to the ORE is the Mission Restitution Cultural Goods at the Ministry of Economic Affairs (Commission de récupération de biens spoliés durant la deuxième guerre mondiale) - see information about the Mission at https://www.lootedart.com/MFEU4619341
Belgium State Archives further correspondence 9 December 2021