Jewish council calls for new German restitution law on Nazi-looted art

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Jewish council calls for new German restitution law on Nazi-looted art
Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has urged lawmakers to significantly strengthen the mandate given to the country’s advisory commission on Nazi-looted art.


Speaking at an event marking the commission's 20th anniversary, Central Council President Josef Schuster said: "The fact that the commission has only mediated in 23 cases since its founding is not a very good record," given that an estimated 600,000 artworks were stolen during the Nazi era.

"It's about dignity, it's about identity, it's about the core of our culture of remembrance."

Schuster added that Germany had already made significant strides in addressing Nazi injustices, but "a just restitution law would be the next important step."

He also pointed out that Nazi art theft had affected not only the Jewish elite but also the Jewish middle class whose stolen works might have had little art historical value but held great significance for families' identities.

He noted that destroying this identity was the first step in the Nazis' policy against Jews.

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Hans-Jürgen Papier, the commission's chairman and former president of the Federal Constitutional Court, urged "a clear commitment from policymakers in the form of legally binding guidelines for addressing unrestituted looted art cases."

Papier stressed that essential demands, such as binding decision-making and restitution procedures for privately held cultural assets, could only be achieved through legislation. The commission had already called for additional powers and a legal basis for its work in a memorandum issued in early September.


Culture Minister Claudia Roth noted that discussions were ongoing.

"We want to significantly strengthen the Advisory Commission," she said, agreeing that not enough Nazi-looted art had been returned and pledging concrete proposals to strengthen the commission.

The independent Advisory Commission was established in 2003 by the federal government, states, and municipal associations to mediate in cases involving the return of cultural assets seized due to Nazi persecution, especially from Jewish owners.



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