The UK government plans to renew the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 to extend beyond its 2019 end to ensure the law remains indefinitely.
These Meissen porcelain figures were in the possession of the V&A. In 2014 they were returned to the heirs of Jewish collector Emma Budge. The Spoliation Advisory Panel ruled they should be returned due to the circumstances of their sale in Nazi Germany in 1937.
The announcement comes ahead of a conference planned for London in September called 70 Years and Counting: The final opportunity?
The event is expected to attract hundreds of experts from Europe and further afield and aims to examine how the process of returning stolen artworks can be accelerated.
In 2000, the UK government established the Spoliation Advisory Panel to examine claims of Nazi-looted art in British collections. Since then, the panel has advised on 20 such claims and 23 cultural objects have either been returned to families or they have received compensation.
John Glen, minister for arts, heritage and tourism, said: “More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, some families are still waiting for their cultural property to be returned. We want countries from across the continent to help right this historic wrong. Our plans to renew the Holocaust Act underline our commitment to building a fairer society and we will do everything in our power to return Nazi-looted art to its rightful owners.”
It is estimated that 20% of Europe’s cultural treasures were stolen or plundered by Nazi Germany, most notably from Jewish families, and over 100,000 of these works are still lost, presumed to be in both private and public collections.
The UK law gave 17 UK national institutions, including the British Museum and the National Gallery, the power to return items lost during the Nazi era to their original owners or their heirs.
Anne Webber who is co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said: “Almost 20 years since the commitments made by 44 countries at the 1998 Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets, little provenance research has been completed or published and few fair and equitable claims processes have been established.
“Although many of the survivors are now passing away, their children and heirs still urgently seek the transparency, accountability and justice that was promised, and the restitution of what was taken and never returned. We welcome the UK government’s strengthening of its commitment to return, and its determination to renew and revitalise these international imperatives.”