Presentation of the official delegation of Belgium at the Vilnius Forum
Peter Martin, Assistant to the Director General of Bilateral Relations and International Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, External Trade and International Cooperation
3-5 October 2000
Belgium sent an official delegation led by Peter Martin to the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets (3-5 October 2000) who gave the presentation set out below (and which was formerly available online at http://www.vilniusforum.lt/proceedings/index.htm).
All countries present at the Forum agreed the Final Declaration.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
In 1993 Belgium state resumed its search for cultural assets that disappeared during the World War II. Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (mission Restitution of Cultural Goods Looted in Belgium during World War II) took part in this search. They assembled the documentation (on works of art; libraries and archives) in view of possible restitution.
In 1994 the database was drawn up containing information on cultural losses in Belgium and two publications were distributed internationally: Missing Art Works of Belgium: I/ Public Domain and II/Belgian State. The total amount of identifiable losses was estimated at 3,200 paintings, sculptures and tapestries and more than 100,000 books and 20,000 archives.
Since the conference 'Spoils of War' in New York (1995), Belgium participated in different international conferences and forums on spoiled assets: the London Conference on Nazi Gold in 1997, the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998 and the Stockholm International Forum on Holocaust. A Conference on Education, Remembrance and Research in 2000. The Belgian reports and declarations are available in the proceedings of these conferences.
The Belgian government contributed in 1999 one million dollars to the Nazi Persecutee Relief Fund. In 1997 the Belgian federal government founded Study Commission to investigate the fate of the Belgian Jewish Community's assets during World War II. This Study Commission on Jewish Assets has been set up to be at the Services of Prime Minister and is being presided by Lucien Buysse, Honorary Grand Marchal of the Court. The members of the Study Commission are representatives of Jewish organizations in Belgium, the departments of Foreign Affairs, Economic Affairs, Finance, Justice, Public Health and Environment (Service of War Victims).
In May 1999 the Study Commission obtained the requested financial means, staff and information technology. The research team works on a supervision of historian Rudi Van Doorslaer. The Study Commission aims at six areas of investigation: the financial sector, real estate, life insurances, companies, diamonds and cultural assets. The Study Commission has achieved remarkable progress in relocating and studying archives in private institutions as well as in public sector. There is a close collaboration with the involved private institutions and the coordinating professional organizations. The Study Commission has also drawn up the Mala Zimetbaum database containing information on the Jewish population in Belgium anno 1940. These data are subject to the Belgian legislation on the protection of privacy. In June 2000 a website has been created (www.combuysse.fgov.be ).
The search for art and cultural assets started in May 2000. In cooperation with the French, Flemish and German Communities (qualified for cultural affairs in Belgium) a questionnaire was sent towards the cultural institutions and museums. The database is being drawn up (Jewish cultural assets-Belgium), relying on the available documents on spoliation and restitution on Jewish cultural assets. These data will be linked with the Mala Zimetbaum database.
Two intermediate reports were issued by the Study Commission in 1998 and 1999. The commission will submit a full report to the Belgian Government by July 2001. Belgium is fully aware of the importance of this tragic part of its history. On September 24, 2000 Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt has made an official statement announcing future measures concerning this matter.
*Study Commission into the fate of the Belgian Jewish Community's assets, which were plundered or surrendered or abandoned during the war 1940 - 1945
Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (11 July 2007).