Art / Cultural Heritage

German Initiative Forges New Chapter in Nazi Looted Art Restitution

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Mosse-Palais in Berlin (1915)

(March 7, 2017, Berlin, Germany) German academic and cultural institutions announce a unique and exceptional agreement in the creation of the Mosse Art Restitution Initiative (MARI) to collaborate on the search and restitution of over 4,000 Nazi looted art objects that were once owned by Berlin media mogul, philanthropist and art collector, Rudolf Mosse.

Mosse’s fine art collection at the Mosse-Palais was reputed to be one of the most extensive collections in Berlin. It was known for extraordinary pieces of antiquity and contemporary art of the day including some well known artists such as, Peter Paul Rubens, August Gaul, Jozef Israels, Adolf von Menzel, and, Alfred Kowalski.

Within months of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the Mosse heirs were targeted and fled. The National Socialist party, confiscated the entire Mosse media empire, real estate proprieties, and the famed art collection. One of Hitler’s first art dealers, Karl Haberstock, organized two auctions of the family’s art and valuables without remunerating the family. Property for life.

For historical perspective, Marilyn Henry, investigative journalist on Holocaust restitution and author of Confronting the Perpetrators: A History of the Claims Conference, wrote in Hadassah magazine,

“Millions of European Jews were forced to sell or abandon their homes and businesses during World War II, their assets plundered or confiscated.”

“Many of the works had entered the art market, which operated throughout the war. The Nazis sold confiscated art to raise cash.”

“Given the absence of regulation in the art market and the willingness to buy and sell without diligent checks of title, many museums and private collections contain items that were looted or sold under duress.”

Over the decades people have begun to understand the complexity of the financing of Nazi war and the realities for the survivors. The political and moral will to address the last victims of war, the looting and plunder of cultural property, has slowly changed. Henry wrote,

Among the staggering material losses of the Holocaust, works of art often seem particularly significant to survivors and their heirs because they represent a last emotional connection to lost family.”

The Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art was signed by 44 countries in 1998. Though not legally binding, all signatories agreed in principle that public institutions would willingly research, identify, and support restitution of any items within the collection that had been seized by the Nazis. Symbolically this was an international success. In practice, there exists a more nuanced and challenging scenario between institutions and heirs seeking restitution.

Another significant development in the era of Nazi looted art restitution was the discovery of the Cornelius Gurlitt art hoard in February 2012. However, the public learned of the hoard, 21 months later, in November 2013 through an investigative report in Focus, a German news magazine. The Gurlitt hoard contained pieces belonging to his father, Hildenbrand Gurlitt, one of Hilter’s art dealers. Followed by a sluggish bureaucratic process, required provenance research and much needed funding only further delayed restitution and challenged the public perception of the symbolic agreement of the Washington Conference.

What makes the MARI announcement significant?

J. Eric Bartko, Director of Investigations at Bartko, Zankel, Bunzel & Miller, is the Project Manager for the Mosse Art Restitution Project. Since 2011, Bartko and his team of investigators have compiled an extensive report on the inventory confiscated and the historical context of the plunder including those responsible. As a result, initial requests for restitution have been successful. Numerous items have already been restituted from Germany and Switzerland. Contrary to other cases that take decades to finalize, Bartko, secured restitution in one case within eight months.

On March 7, 2017 in Berlin, the Mosse heirs, Freie University, Kulturstiftung der Lander, the Stiftung PreuBishcher, Kulturbesitz, the Foundation of the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Landesarchiv announce the creation of the MARI.

Together they will search through German public institutions for over 4,000 pieces of art that were in the Rudolf Mosse collection. In this rare collaboration, the German Lost Art Foundation and the Mosse Art Restitution Project will fund the provenance research to identify the stolen art. Potentially, art objects from the Mosse collection are in public and private collections around the world. As pieces are discovered, the opportunity to restitute will be offered to each institution. Now, a full exhaustive search begins in Germany.

MARI, in effect, is creating a diplomatic, collaborative and transparent restitution campaign template for all heirs seeking restitution of Holocaust cultural heritage plunder.

By Keri Douglas, founder of All rights reserved.

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