Efforts to reunite Nazi-looted items with rightful owners gets MPs’ backing

Jewish News 16 March 2019

Scheme to return objects stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust is at third hearing, which aims to retain a 2009 law before it lapses

Theresa Villiers speaking in the Commons as she tabled an proposed legislation on the issue of returning Nazi-looted art

A scheme helping families of Holocaust victims to reclaim art and cultural items stolen by the Nazis is on course to be extended.

MPs supported the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects)(Amendment) Bill at third reading, which aims to retain a 2009 law before it lapses in November this year.

The existing legislation allows listed national museums and libraries to return items lost, stolen, looted or seized during the Holocaust.

Conservative former minister Theresa Villiers, who has introduced the Bill, said there was a “strong moral case” for keeping it as many items are yet to be returned – with several on display in British museums and galleries.

In the Commons, Ms Villiers said: “Supporting this Bill provides one way of showing we will not tolerate antisemitism or others forms of hatred, we will always condemn it and that we will seek to root it out wherever we find it.

“Supporting this Bill is a way to demonstrate that we will never let the lessons learned from the Holocaust be overlooked or forgotten.

“And supporting this Bill is a way to show the respect we have for Holocaust survivors who held on and suffered unimaginable trauma and survived against the odds.”

Tory MP Julian Knight (Solihull) agreed, saying it was clear from testimony of Holocaust survivors that the issue had not yet been resolved.

He said: “We ought therefore to hold the door open for just restitution for as long as we possibly can.”

His colleague Kevin Hollinrake said he believed there were still 100,000 items that have not been returned and “that are still lost”.

The Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton said the original law had “anticipated that 10 years would have been long enough”, but said it is “absolutely right to take forward legislation to keep this process open”.

Shadow culture minister Rosena Allin-Khan spoke of her family’s role in fighting the Nazis as she offered Labour’s support.

She said her grandmother was pregnant with her uncle while hiding in the sewers of Warsaw during the Second World War, adding: “My family was in the Warsaw ghetto.

“My grandmother’s brother – my great uncle – died valiantly fighting for freedom in Poland. And my mother being Polish, I know full well that you do not grow up in a Polish family without hearing stories of the Holocaust almost every week.”

Ms Allin-Khan said she has visited Auschwitz-Birkenau three times, also telling the Commons: “As a second generation Pole, I can tell you the pain indeed lives on today.”

The Government also supported the Bill and it will undergo further scrutiny in the Lords at a later date.
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