Wartime Art Theft in Italy: Still an Unsettled Matter

New York Times 21 September 2014
Letter from Fiona Rose-Greenland, Chicago

Re “Report Criticizes Lax Efforts on the Restitution of Wartime Looted Art” (Arts pages, Sept. 11): The report by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany is correct to insist that Italy, among other European countries, can and should do more to restore artworks to Nazi victims and their heirs.

What explains Italy’s position? Nazi victimhood is still an unsettled matter in Italy, as in other parts of Europe. The circulation of art, however, was especially complicated there: Mussolini generously gave the Germans Italian masterpieces, fueled partly by a vigorous domestic program of confiscating art from Italian Jews. Who are the real victims of art theft? Rather than take a strong moral position on the plight of Nazi victims and survivors, Italian officials leave this open as a debatable point.

What the claims conference report draws our attention to, above all, is the shocking reality that the restoration of humanistic society in postwar Europe is unfinished business and may always be so.

The writer is associate research director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, University of Chicago; a version of this letter appears in print on September 22, 2014, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Wartime Art Theft in Italy: Still an Unsettled Matter.
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