Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA)
June 1998 - March 2001
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA) was established by the US Holocaust Assets Commission Act of 1998 (P.L.105186). The Commission was charged with the following tasks:
Conducting research into and compiling a record of the fate of assets of Holocaust victims that came into the possession of the US federal government.
Reviewing research conducted by others regarding assets that came into private hands and non-federal government agencies.
Advising the President on policies to be adopted.
The Commission consisted of twenty-two members, including eight Congressional members, representatives of the Departments of Army, Justice, State and Treasury, the Chair of the Holocaust Memorial Council and eight members of the public from across the United States.
The primary goal was to develop an historical account of those valuables that came into the hands of the federal government. Original research was conducted in the areas of art and cultural property, gold, and non-gold financial property by teams of researchers headed by experts Jonathan Petropoulos, Marc Masurovsky, and Helen Junz. State Holocaust commissions, banking and insurance companies, international Holocaust commissions and other agencies worked with the Commission to share and review research.
Upon completion of its research and analysis, the Commission reported its findings to the President and recommended further policy actions. The report was published as: Plunder and Restitution: The U.S. and Holocaust Victims' Assets, Findings and Recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States and Staff Report , U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 2000 and is available in its entirety online at http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/pcha/PlunderRestitution.html/html/Home_Contents.html .
The first part of the report, 'Findings and Recommendations', focuses on the implementation of restitution policy in Europe and the United States and why this policy has, to date, been insufficient. It then outlines the agreements negotiated by the Commission in both the public and private sectors relating to both art and other assets. These agreements include acknowledging the Holocaust provenance of books in the Library of Congress and a painting at the National Gallery, a promise from the museum community fully to disclose any Holocaust-era works of art and their provenance, and an agreement from the banking industry to investigate dormant accounts and other unclaimed property of Holocaust victims in the USA.
The second section consists of the staff report, divided into seven chapters:
Chapter One outlines the scope of the report and purpose of the Commission, and includes an estimate of the total number of assets in all categories, including artworks, that came into US possession or control.
Chapter Two presents an historical overview of the beginnings of World War II and the United States' involvement in the conflict, the US Army's discovery of assets at the end of the war, US policy towards the art discovered, control of victim assets held in the United States (primarily financial), and the impact of the Cold War and the creation of the State of Israel on the handling of victims' assets.
Chapter Three deals with the control of assets in the United States including the government's restrictions on 'alien' assets.
Chapter Four details Allied efforts to protect valuables in the line of fire during World War II and the discovery of art caches during the final days of the war. The assets were consolidated into collecting points as part of the effort to restore them to their original locations.
Chapter Five describes the restitution efforts made in Europe and in the United States, referencing the Paris Reparations Agreement, Law 59 in Germany, and the Jewish Restitution Successor Organisation (JRSO) in Europe and in the United States, including efforts to unblock assets and the recovery of heirless assets in the USA. Some attention is also given to problems with restitution in this period.
Chapter Six focuses on heirless assets and the role of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc, in particular the identification, return and disposal of books and ceremonial objects that had been communal property.
Chapter Seven mentions assets looted from other victims during the war, in particular the Roma and homosexuals. It also deals with the impact of the creation of Israel and the Cold War on restitution policy and efforts, the importation of looted art into the United States via third countries, the presence of victims' gold on the international market, attempts to quantify victims' assets, relations between the US government and Jewish organisations, the role of state governments in handling dormant assets and the findings of other national commissions of inquiry.
The recommendations made by the Commission to the President were:
The President should urge Congress to establish a Foundation to promote further research and education in the area of Holocaust-era assets and restitution policy and to promote innovative solutions to contemporary restitution policy issues. The Foundation's remit should include:
Providing centralized repositories for research and information about Holocaust-era assets.
Promoting the development of tools to assist individuals and institutions to determine the ownership of Holocaust victims' assets.
Working with the private sector to develop and promote common standards and best practices for research on Holocaust-era assets.
The Federal government should preserve archival records of the Holocaust era and facilitate research into such records.
The Department of Defense should be prepared to address similar issues in future conflicts.
The United States should continue its leadership to promote the international community's commitment to addressing asset restitution issues.
The President should urge Congress to pass legislation that removes impediments to the identification and restitution of Holocaust victims' assets.
The Recommendations are set out in full online at http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/pcha/PlunderRestitution.html/html/Recommendations.html.
Plunder and Restitution: The U.S. and Holocaust Victims' Assets, Findings and Recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States and Staff Report , U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 2000.
Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, <http://www.pcha.gov/> first accessed 21 November 2002. Link first updated 20 July 2007 and again on28 January 2013 to http://pcha.ushmm.org/index.htm.