No period of limitation for looted art says Polish culture minister

The First News 3 September 2022

There is no statute of limitations on the crime of looting a country's cultural heritage, Piotr Glinski, the Polish culture minister, has said.

In an article written for Observador, a Portuguese newspaper published solely online, Glinski said that this applied to not only to international law but also to the ethical and moral dimensions.

Glinski was referring to Poland's cultural heritage that was looted by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War Two.

Poland was attacked by Nazi Germany on September 1, 1939 and the Soviet Union invaded the country from the east 16 days later under a secret German-Soviet pact.

Glinski said in his article that mass looting of Polish art by the two occupiers had left "a poignant sense of loss in Polish culture".

He went onto to say that his ministry's database of war losses included close to 66,000 items, which he said was just "a small part of the total estimated number of 516,000 lost items".

Polish museums lost around 50 percent of their inventory during the war while losses of libraries are seen at 70 percent of their pre-war collections. These figures could also be under-estimates given that a lot of the documentation on the items was often stolen or destroyed on purpose, according to Glinski.

"Considering the special nature of works of art and their intangible value, the restitution of the looted items to the site from which they were stolen is the most appropriate form of making amends, independently from such solutions as reparations, digitalisation or making copies," Glinski wrote, adding that restitution is a continuous and infinite process and that Poland will never stop pursuing justice in this respect, especially that restitution efforts for works art looted during WWII was still going on around the world.

Apart from Observador, the culture minister's article was also published in Poland's 'Wszystko co Najwazniejsze' right-wing monthly under a project carried out in collaboration with the Institute for National Remembrance and the Polish National Foundation.
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