Holocaust property restoration: Not enough progress made, report finds

The World Jewish Restitution Organization and the US State Department held an event in Washington, DC, on Tuesday for the release of a report on art and cultural property restitution unveiled in conjunction with the Claims Conference, according to a WJRO release.

According to the report titled, “Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Property: A Current Worldwide Overview,” seven countries have made major progress in art and cultural restitution while 24 countries have made minimal to no progress. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the keynote address in a prerecorded video, where he said countless works of art and cultural property stolen by Nazis still have not been returned to their owners. 

“Today, too many governments, museums, dealers, galleries, and individuals still resist restitution efforts… while heirs confront staggering legal and financial barriers as they go up against opponents whose resources vastly outmatch their own,” Blinken said. “Today, the State Department is proud to announce Best Practices to help overcome some of these hurdles.”

Holocaust envoys leading in art, cultural property restitution

Blinken endorsed a document on Best Practices in art and cultural property restitution by 18 countries, led by those with Holocaust envoys, marking the first endorsement of a governmental document on Holocaust restitution in almost 15 years. 

According to WJRO, the Best Practices will enhance the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi Confiscated Art. 

“This report underscores the critical need for advancement in art and cultural property restitution,” WJRO President Gideon Taylor said. “Restitution from public bodies or private individuals is not just about returning what was taken; it’s about reconnecting families and communities with their heritage.”

“Over the past 25 years, there has been significant progress, but much work lies ahead. The endorsement by [18] countries of these Best Practices is of tremendous importance as it sets out a road map for the future. We urge other countries, as well as museums, auction houses, dealers and private possessors to join us in ensuring justice and that rightful owners and their heirs are reunited with their cultural treasures,” Taylor said. 

Speakers at Tuesday’s event included Ambassador (ret.) Stuart E. Eizenstat, Secretary of State’s Special Adviser on Holocaust Issues; Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Gideon Taylor, President, World Jewish Restitution Organization and Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany; Ellen Germain, US State Department Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues; Lord Eric Pickles, United Kingdom Special Envoy for post-Holocaust Issues; Colette Avital, Chairperson, Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.

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