Official Presentations :

Presentation of the official delegation of Italy at the Vilnius Forum 3-5 October 2000

Presentation of the official delegation of Italy at the Vilnius Forum

Tina Anselmi, President of the Governmental Commission on Jewish Goods

3-5 October 2000

Italy sent an official delegation led by Tina Anselmi 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.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am particularly pleased to take the floor as Head of the Italian delegation and as Chairwoman of the Commission for the Reconstruction of the Events which Characterized in Italy the Activities of Acquisition of the Goods Belonging to Jewish Citizens by Public and Private Institutions.

Never before as on this occasion, an international initiative such as this Forum in Vilnius, did harmonize with the work of a national Committee intending to be a verification, a stimulus, a comparison with the situation in other countries.

As it happened and is still happening in other European countries, the Italian Committee has the task to carry out a general survey on the occurrence of dispossessions affecting, in different aspects, Jewish citizens at the time of so-called "racial laws" or just before the time of their enactement: this is by all means an exacting task as an aspect of the Jewish oppression must be dealt with that was never considered globally and with reference to the whole Italian territory. If on historical, legal, ethical aspects of the Jewish persecution and of racial laws we have a very extensive bibliography, the same in not the case for the property fallout of such provisions, with the exception of some study projects limited to some geographic areas.

During its work the Committee had to face the problem of the misappropriation of the artistic and cultural property, being this a feature, certainly not a secondary one of the more general problem.

There is no doubt that this became particularly important within the regulatory framework characterizing the long process of the anti-Jewish persecution.

In the information note on the Italian situation, available for all Forum participants, this process has been faithfully even if concisely described: from the early rules against the trading of artistic goods to the stringent measures deterring from their export, to final seizure and confiscation provisions, It is not inessential to observe that, even before the general provision of seizure of all Jewish landed property and movables a legislative decree, which was never formally promulgated but was de facto in force thanks to an explanatory circular letter, provided for the requisition of works of art. As such were meant "not only works of figurative art (painting, sculpture, engraving, etc.) but also works of applied art when, owing to their value, they cannot be considered as objects of everyday use".

A complete survey of the events of misappropriations may not disregard the procedures to implement them:

o Misappropriations carried out within the regulatory framework and the administrative provisions we have rapidly mentioned. They followed specific procedures, were conditional on the observance of some formal aspects and it was therefore easier to check later on the process of recovery and restitution of property;

o Misappropriations which took place beyond the regulatory framework: i.e. thefts, plunders, vandal acts performed by Fascists and/or Nazis and by the Nazi occupation troops. It is obvious that the recovery of this property was and still is significantly more problematic;

o The rape of synagogues and of relative artistic fittings;

o Destruction due to bombing and warlike events.

Now I would like to call your attention on some specific aspects. I first of all intend to refer to the problem of the size of misappropriations and of open questions.

It is not possible to make a general audit of misappropriations. It is anyway sure that with confiscation, plunders, thefts and rapes the Jewish cultural heritage was severely struck and heavily impoverished.

It being understood that we carry the burden to assess this size, the Committee is presently engaged in investigating unresolved matters and in defining whether present legal instruments permit a restitution.

As far as missing works and such that still have to be recovered are concerned, I would like to refer to the valuable digest that Minister Plenipotentiary Bondioli Osio, Chairman of the Interministerial Committee for the recovery of works of art, took along to this Forum. I wish to refer to the publication L'Opera da ritrovare "The Work to Recover": an important digest in which several works are recorded, among many others, which were certainly taken away from the Jews at the time of their oppression.

Also thanks reports coming from the competent Offices of the Ministry for Cultural Activities and from Jewish Communities, it can be agreed upon that this digest, even though extensive, is not complete at least as far as the Jewish property is concerned. In the Italian information note it is for example being reported on other extensive misappropriations but we have grounds to believe that this list can be further integrated.

With a view to that, the Committee I chair, is actively engaged in the recovery of works of art, together with the Interministerial Committee.

The stage of identification of stolen works that have not been returned yet shall obviously pose the problem to find where they are and likewise the important problem of their restitution.

To promote the process of identification of the ownership of property, I would like to seize the occasion to recall to mind the suggestion included in the Italian note: an equal commitment for all European museums, libraries, archives to a Declaration of Historical Correctness where they should describe the investigations carried out to ascertain the eventual presence in their collections and in their store-rooms of goods by all means taken away from persecuted Jews.

With regard to restitution we can claim that many took place immediately in the post-war period thanks to a general reparatory legislation, which was sufficiently open, although it could not be always easily implemented because of case-law interpretations being questionably reasonable thus threatening to invalidate the intentions of legislators.

I am not able to state if the Italian regulatory framework can still permit, today after so much time has gone by, the restitution of property to the heirs of former owners. The Committee shall discuss also this matter in depth proposing, if necessary, appropriate adjustments. I would like to quote in this regard Article 2 of a recent Law passed in 1997.

"All property taken away from Jewish citizens or from persons believed to be such due to reasons of racial persecution and which could not be returned to their rightful owners because they or their heirs disappeared or are untraceable and are still eventually kept in custody or held by the Italian State for whatever reason, shall be allocated to the Union of Italian Jewish Communities that shall provide for its distribution to single Communities, taking into account the origin of the property and the places where the misappropriations occurred".

I intend to make a second reference to the problem of the relationship between national rules and regulations and international legal instruments.

National legislation certainly plays a priority role in this sector as in others. But it should also be stated that, in a world being less and less confined within the boundaries of single countries, international initiatives - such as is the case for this Forum in Vilnius - play an ever increasing important role and can strengthen each national legislation. The Forum we are taking part in is implementing the indication included in item 19 of Resolution No. 1025 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It required the organization of a European Conference, in line with the Conference of Washington, and more specifically intended for dealing restitution of cultural goods and reforming legislation as we have been doing in the last days. I have seen with pleasure as in Resolution No. 1025 reference is made to the Unidroit Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural objects. Italy ratified this Convention as well by Law No. 213 of June 7, 1999. This reference is certainly important even if I believe that this Convention can have enforceability with regard to events that occurred before its entry into force. I believe, on the other hand, that the UNESCO Convention concerning the measures to implement to prevent the import, export and transfer of illegal property of cultural goods as was adopted by the General Conference in the sixteenth UNESCO session in Paris in November 1970 should not be forgotten. It should not be underestimated that as many as 184 countries are members of UNESCO and that the Convention I made reference to is still very topical and fully operative.

Coming to the conclusion of my contribution, I would like to propose to project the technical, economical, legal considerations of the last days into a wider-ranging prospect. It is our fundamental task to pass down to new generations complete information on historical events and to mould their judgment with adequate instruments. Only a full awareness of the past can permit us and our children to face this challenge successfully.

I would like to stress again here with great pleasure what the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies recalled a few days ago: "It was furthermore significant how much international appreciation was given to the project "Young people and remembrance" which let our Country become part of the Task-Force Holocaust on Education Remembrance and Research, at the explicit invitation of the countries promoting the Group and not owing to a membership request procedure".

I wish to close my contribution with a remark on the cultural and political reasons that urged us to realize this Conference. It takes place in a climate we are not afraid to declare dangerous. Every sign of anti-Semitism must be exposed and fought against. The cultural field is always the area where political events originate and develop. If we are aware of that, also this meeting shall help us to identify the adequate instruments to prevent anti-Semitism and any form of racism at cultural level

Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust-Era Looted Cultural Assets Website, accessed 27 November 2002. The website no longer exists (20 July 2007).