Presentation of the official delegation of the United Kingdom at the Vilnius Forum
Hillary Bauer, Head of the Cultural Property Unit, Department of Culture, Media and Sport
3-5 October 2000
The United Kingdom sent an official delegation led by Hillary Bauer to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets who gave the presentation set out below.
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
The UK Government has been in the forefront of developments which have responded to the increased awareness and growing sensitivity to the misappropriation, during the period 1933 to 1945, of assets that were owned by Jewish families and other victims of the upheavals in Europe during those times. In the last three years vigorous efforts have been taken both directly by Government and UK organisations to assess the scale of the potential problem as it effects the UK and to ensure that active steps are being taken to address the issues that have arisen and provide, where possible, remedies that are acceptable to all parties involved. This process is on-going and involves a wide spectrum of organisation and individuals. The major landmarks in this process, particularly with regard to cultural assets, are summarised below.
London Conference on Nazi Gold
Held in December 1997, this conference gathered delegates from over 40 countries in order to document the facts, gather evidence and locate the truth concerning the theft by the Nazis of considerable quantities of gold from many European countries and individuals. At this conference the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, announced the creation of a Fund to help the victims of Nazi persecution and to support related educational projects. The UK having made an initial contribution, this led to promises of funding from 9 other nations. The conference, in its final session, also looked at the question of assets other than gold, including works of art and in this and other areas, emphasised the need for ready access to be made available to archived papers and other sources of information on the period which would allow victims and their relatives to obtain the evidence they needed to identify and located what had been stolen from them. At this conference the US delegation announced that these issues, as they affected looted art, would be addressed at a conference to be held the following year in Washington.
In December 1998 the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets took place. It was co-hosted by the US Department of State and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Over forty countries were represented. The UK delegation of 20 was led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Conference again stressed the need to identify those items that were the subject of spoliation. In order to do this, there had to be open access to historical records. Similarly, groups researching in this area needed to share their results. The Conference also encouraged countries to establish a means whereby former owners could come forward with claims which would receive consideration with the aim of achieving a just and fair solution to any claim. The Conference provided a renewed impetus to efforts to find ways to rectify past injustices and encouraged participating countries to carry out the necessary research into the problem as quickly as possible. The Conference's Declaration is at Annex A.
Enemy Claims Compensation Advisory Panel
Also in December 1998, the UK Government announced the details of a new Claims Scheme to compensate victims of Nazi persecution for assets confiscated under the wartime Trading with the Enemy legislation. The Scheme had the following main features:
(1) any victims of Nazi persecution who had assets in the UK confiscated by UK Government under the Trading with the Enemy legislation, and who have not already been compensated, would be eligible to make a claim;
(2) the UK Government would pay compensation at present day values would be paid in respect of valid claims to the original owners or their heirs; and
(3) claims would be determined by a panel of three independent Assessors comprising a legal Chair, someone with financial expertise; and someone with an understanding of belonging to a minority group.
A list of over 25,000 records of those whose property was confiscated was placed on the Internet at www.enemyproperty.gov.uk . The period for the submission of claims ended on 30 September 1999. The claims are now being considered by the Panel of Assessors and Claimants are being notified of the results and the payment arranged for successful claims. As of September 2000 over 1033 claims had been received by the Panel, with 162 payments authorised leading to a total payment of £2.878 million.
Response of national museums and galleries
In March of that year (1998), the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith MP, asked the National Museum Directors' Conference (NMDC) to examine their collections with a view to finding out whether any objects might have been looted during World War II and the Nazi period. A working group chaired by Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, with representatives from the 30 national museums, galleries and libraries, together with an observer from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was set up to take matters forward. The list of all the national cultural institutions in the membership of the NMDC are given at Annex B. An independent Advisory Committee was formed to oversee the efforts of the working group. This is Chaired by Sir David Neuberger with other members being Lady Vaizey, Sir Jack Baer, Peter Brooke MP, Mark Fisher MP, Professor David Cesarani and Ms Anne Webber.
Initial discussions by the working group resulted in a Statement of Principles and Proposed Actions for member institutions (Annex D). This statement was finalised and adopted by the NMDC in November 1998 and was presented to the Washington Conference. Its recommendations included a proposal that each museum, gallery and library should draw up an action plan setting out their planned approach to research into the issue of provenance. Soon afterwards, the Statement of Principles and Proposed Action was adopted in a slightly modified form by the UK government's principal advisor on non-national museums, the Museums & Galleries Commission and sent out to all 1800 registered museums and galleries in the UK. Adherence to these Principles became a condition for an institution's eligibility for certain grants and other funding.
The first report from the NMDC was published on 29 February 2000 and was made available on the Internet (www.nationalmuseums.org.uk/spoliation.html). It made widely accessible the research into the provenance for the period 1933-45 of works within the UK national collections. The report lists approximately 340 works where, following initial research, the provenance details for the relevant period were either incomplete or entirely absent. The inclusion of a work on the list does not mean there is any reason to believe that it was wrongfully taken (many works were probably in the UK throughout 1933-45); only that some provenance information is missing or uncertain.
The NMDC's report was published with the express aim of assisting with the worldwide search for works of art which may have been wrongfully taken during the Holocaust and World War II and is intended for use by, amongst others, anyone searching for works which have been wrongfully taken during the relevant period. It welcomes and invites enquires on any of the works of art listed or, indeed, of any other item held in the national collections which is not listed and provides details of the contact point at each gallery or museum. Since the publication of the report there has to date been neither any enquiry nor a single claim against any of the items identified as having an incomplete provenance.
The UK Government Art Collection (GAC) also undertook to research into its own collection. The GAC helps to promote the image of Britain abroad by reflecting its history, culture and creativity in the visual arts through an extensive display of works of art by British artists, which are hung in major Government buildings in the UK and throughout the world. In conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the GAC has carried out audits of the works of art in the possession of HM Government in the 66 British diplomatic posts overseas, which were (a) in Axis countries, (b) under German occupation or (c) in countries in Europe and North Africa which were neutral during World War II, but through which looted art is known to have passed. As a result of these audits, the GAC has found no evidence to link any of the works at posts to those looted during the Nazi/World War II period.
The extensive research on provenance which has been summarised in the NMDC's first report is continuing and six-monthly updates to the listings will be prepared and put on the website. The next such addition will be published on 26th October 2000. Work on the checking of the provenance of items in non-national collections is continuing and assistance is being provided for the small number of galleries and museums which are most likely to have items that have a non-UK provenance.
As part of the effort to raise awareness within the general public of the Holocaust and of its continuing impact , Britain's Imperial War Museum has established a permanent exhibition on the Holocaust. This has proved a very effective means of communicating information and since it opened in June over 100,000 visitors have seen the exhibition.
Claim against painting by Griffier in the Tate Gallery
In July 1999, the Tate Gallery was approached by representatives of a Jewish family, living in England who claimed that a painting in the Tate's collection, View of Hampton Court Palace by Jan Griffier the Elder, had belonged to the family until World War II when it had been sold at a low value by the family which was by then in hiding in Belgium. The family's representative asked for guidance as to how to proceed with a claim. While the gallery undertook further research on the painting in question, it invited the family to present the information it had on the painting and this was arranged within a few days. It was agreed that investigations would proceed while the Director of the Tate would discuss the matter both with his Trustees and with Government. Following investigations by the Tate (including taking advice from their lawyers) they approached HM Government for guidance on appropriate action.
That same month the UK Minister for the Arts, Alan Howarth MP, having resolved to implement the Declaration of the Washington Conference, wrote to the Lord Chancellor and other Ministerial colleagues to seek their agreement to the setting up of an advisory panel to help resolve claims from those people - or their heirs - who had lost cultural objects during the Nazi era and which were now held by UK national collections.
Spoliation Advisory Panel
The Spoliation Advisory Panel was formally announced by the Minister for the Arts on 17 February 2000. It would meet under the Chairmanship of retired Lord Justice of Appeal the Rt Hon. Sir David Hirst. Draft Terms of Reference (TOR) were also announced by the Minister and a period of consultation was announced. The UK Government received and listened to representations and held several meetings with interested parties, culminating in a meeting with Lord Janner and others from the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Commission for Looted Art in Europe.
Following extensive consultation ten Panel members were announced on 13 April 2000 together with the final Terms of Reference. (TOR) The final TOR along with a list of Panel members is at Annex D. The first claim for the Panel to consider was that on the Griffier painting at Tate Britain.
The Panel Chairman met with interested Members of Parliament in May 2000 to discuss concerns held by them. Although broadly supportive of HM Government's action in forming the Spoliation Advisory Panel, they had a number of concerns including the perceived length of time the Panel had taken to set up.
The first meeting of the Panel was held on 8 June where the Panel accepted the Terms of Reference (TOR) and discussed and adopted their own Rules of Procedure (ROP). The ROP are attached at Annex E. In line with the ROP, the claimant for the Griffier painting was invited to formally submit his claim and the Institution (the Tate) was invited to respond. Once received, these documents were circulated in confidence to all members of the Panel and a further meeting arranged for early September.
At the September meeting, the Panel consideration Issues of fact, Issues of law and Issues of morality. Recognising the need for due-diligence the Panel asked for detailed research to be commissioned including a report on wartime conditions in Belgium, the professional dating of negatives put forward as evidence by the claimant, and research into the records of galleries that may have handled the painting. The Panel is due to meet in early November to consider the results of this research and to make its recommendations.
The Restore UK Project
The British Bankers' Association in April 2000 published a list of names of those who may have had funds in UK bank accounts that remain unclaimed since these accounts were frozen by the Government during World War II. The 13,000 names are listed on the Restore UK website at www.restoreuk.org.uk. At the same time claims are being invited from those who believe they were affected or from their heirs and representatives and these will be considered by the individual banks involved. An appeals mechanism has also been established should there be any claims were agreement cannot be reached between the individual bank and the claimant. It is envisaged that the April 2000 list will be augmented as further research is carried out and more banks join the scheme. Currently 18 are involved including all the main British clearing banks.
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee: Report on Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee held an enquiry into Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade during the summer of 2000. One of the issues the Committee addressed was Spoliation. Its report, which welcomed the setting up of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, was published in July. One of its recommendations was that there should be consultation on the case for legislation to permit the Trustees of national museums and galleries to dispose of objects which, in the view of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, were wrongfully taken during the period 1933-1945 (recommendation xviiii). Under the current legislation national collections are prohibited from disposing of items once they have become part of the collection. HM Government has recently provided its response which is attached at Annex F. This reflects the Minister for the Art's consultation on the possibility of altering the current legislation.
The UK has made significant progress in the last few years to implement within the UK the principles set out at the conclusion of the Washington Conference in 1998. In setting up the Spoliation Advisory Panel we hope that we may have set a lead which could act as a model for others to follow.
However, we recognise that while much has already been achieved, it is necessary to look forward and we shall work, in co-operation with other countries, to achieve a just and fair solution to these difficult issues.
The UK is committed to work with other governments in order to ensure that information is made freely available as possible and to play its part in providing a central point of enquiry.
We would urge all here at the Vilnius Forum to assist claimants and guide them in their efforts to obtain their rightful property from which they were separated, often under the most tragic of circumstances, during the Nazi era.
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust Era Looted Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (19 July 2007).