Text in English translation:
● At least dating to the time that the Berlin Street Scene by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was restituted from the
KIRM, the cultural initiative in the Rhine/Main area, organized a symposium at the
First Georg Crezelius, chair of tax law studies at
A second presentation, prepared by Anja Heuss of the provenance research staff of the State Gallery in
Thereafter Uwe Hartmann, head of the office of provenance research in
The meeting ended by dividing participants into three working groups designed to address the aforementioned themes in greater depth. In light of being in a publication center and the participation of the author in the working group on basic issues facing restitutions, led by Hans-Juergen Hellwig, a specialist in commercial and civil law as well as honorary professor for European law at Heidelberg University, the focus for further considerations was to be on the experience gained. Hellwig emphasized at the outset that all deadlines of existing laws on restitution have expired, that the “Joint Declaration” does not include any deadlines and the “Handreichung”, too, points out that there is no legal claim for restitution. Based on that, he pointed out that without official regulations problems arise both for legal successors (the claim filers) as wells as heads of public museums (in their function of opposing such claims).
Based on this introduction, which was definitely critical to restitution based on the Washington Principles, Ludwig von Pufendorf the presented his established views, expressed already on the occasion of the return of the Kirchner painting, that those currently responsible for proceeding with restitutions leave themselves open for accusations of acting disloyally. This opinion was countered with an observation that despite numerous returns until now, no legal complaints have been filed. Actually none of those responsible have been subject to legal complaints. More likely a new attitude is being developed which, regardless of assertions to the contrary, is seeking an end to the returns, because demands for a law releases those responsible in museums from actively pursuing legal successors since right now they can claim that there is no legal basis for such a claim. Besides, the demand for a law is raised parallel with the demand for the federal government to pay for the compensation so that the art lost on account of Nazi persecution can remain in the museums. That means in effect that those now responsible for museums no longer have to be responsible for the actions of their predecessors. The looted art can stay but the public will have to pay. Acquirers of goods illegally acquired and art dealer would happily support such a demand.
Moreover the position taken by the Limbach Commission was examined critically and led also to asking for a change in structure and legal basis. Altogether the overwhelming majority of working group members favored an involvement by lawmakers, even though it has to be conceded that there is no political will behind such plan. It was rather conspicuous that very few persons adopted positions taken by former owners of cultural goods and their legal successors. As a result the issue of a legal basis and generally of restitutions was thereby narrowed to the position of museums under the threat of losing artworks. The fact that there is an ethical basis for the dealings of those responsible for museums and that part of the core value of such an ethical basis is that no stolen goods or illegally obtained objects should be in museums are issues simply being ignored. The limitation confined to the perspective of the museums is also reflected to the extent that the professional council of the
The concluding general meeting dealt briefly with the results developed by the various working groups. It has to be noted in this connection that the second working group, led by Renate Petzinger from the museum in
Subsequently Martin Roth, Director General of the State Collection of Art in
1. Provenance research should change its methods and develop new approaches. Within the territory of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR) that means above all the search for objects confiscated by the DDR. In addition he demanded public discussion since it was after all of public concern.
2. The Limbach Commission should adopt a new structure and a new base. He singled out the commissions in the
3. At this stage Roth repeated a demand voiced several time earlier namely for “a fire brigade fund” for museums to finance the retention of affected exhibits.
4. The importance of provenance research should be invigorated by museums and universities because in the future it will be a subject of substantially greater importance, specifically in respect to ethnology, archeology and art. To this end museums require experts and at least medium-term planning backed by sufficient funding.
In the end it is difficult to evaluate this professional meeting. The timeliness of the topic was apparent, as was the need for exchanges among those staffing museums. However legal aspects predominated and, worse, in terms of the perspectives held by institutions which consider themselves as “those having to relinquish the goods”. Above all, the lack of a legal basis for demanding returns was subjected to discussions, but not the immoral and total absence of a legal basis for the confiscation of these objects after January 30, 1933. Moreover, questions regarding the ethics of the dealings of the museums were not even being considered. Can it be legitimate to outlast looted art? Is it reasonable to store and exhibit looted art in a museum? An effort to take the position of those persecuted or their legal successors into consideration, a position which is necessarily quite different than that of museums, was recognized in only a few cases. Also the possibility for museums to actively approach earlier owners or their legal successors, as has happened several times since 1999, was hardly discussed. The meeting was dominated by attitudes that rejected restitution under the disguise of a lack of legal provisions. The KIRM report of the meeting reads accordingly..
In public debate reference is frequently made to attorneys who have made a business out of the restitution of art. At the same time persons representing this point of view asked for a law that will open a new line of business for these same attorneys. The accusation of breach of trust, a criminal offense, voiced at the meeting by attorney von Pufendorf against those responsible who are prepared to return objects of art lost by Nazi persecution creates a climate of fear for museums and prevents the search for fair and just solutions. Still worse are some media reports that promote anti-Semitic attitudes. It is not the reverse – it is not the legitimate demands of the legal successors that create such a climate. A bona-fide acquisition after the end of the Second World War is contrasted by a particular duty of care on the part of those responsible for museums in cases of acquisitions after May 1945, especially because those responsible for museums during the Nazi times were closely linked to the exploitations of former Jewish ownership. They enjoyed special access rights and often were familiar with Jewish-owned art collections, based on their own viewing. In the meantime enough examples have been published that prove illegal acquisitions by those responsible for museums. On that basis those who are responsible today should assume the moral obligation to identify and publicize works of arts in their collections confiscated by the Nazis and locate the legal successors in order to find a fair and just solution for these pieces together with them. Unfortunately this topic was not discussed in the meeting.
For the German original text of this article, click here.
For the German original text of this article, click here.
 In regard to the symposium held in
 This report is to be found under http://www.kirm,de/kirm/files/Bericht_Tagung_Restitution.pdf. The report is one-sided, professionally questionable and ignores the negotiated prior agreements concluded for instance by the
 Dr. Jens Hoppe is a historian based in Frankfurt/Main