Dringender Reformbedarf bei der Limbach-Kommission - Urgent Need for Reform of the Limbach Commission

ZOV 23 March 2016
By Henning Kahmann

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In early March 2016 Monika Grütters, the German Federal Minister of State for Cultural Affairs, said that a Jewish person should not be a member of the so-called Limbach Commission. She then changed course, and also said that one could think of a change in certain aspects of the way in which the Commission worked.

Lawyer Henning Kahmann argues that she reached this conclusion as a result of a number of incidents that have damaged the authority of the Commission. He cites the Behrens Recommendation of February 2015 (, in which the Commission had argued that Jewish bankers had not been persecuted in early 1935, although the consensus among historians and the German Federal Administrative Court is that all Jews were persecuted since the beginning of Nazi rule. Another incident was the refusal of the Commission to grant the heir of Hans Sachs access to its files ( Further, Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), had called for a complete overhaul of the Commission in November 2015

Kahmann writes that the greatest problem of the Commission is that it has contributed to a dilution of the effectiveness of the Washington Principles. The reason for this is that the Commission had claimed that it was “independent”, which apparently included an independence or the Washington Principles as interpreted by the Gemeinsame Erklärung of 1999 and the Handreichung of 2001. Kahmann argues that the Commission should have applied these Principles rather than distancing itself from them. Otherwise any German museum could avoid being measured by these Principles by referring cases to the Commission. He agrees with Parzinger’s wish for a reform of the Commission’s procedure and for the creation of procedural rules. The need for this was highlighted by the recent Flechtheim case where the Commission held a hearing, although three of its seven members were absent. He asks how, in the absence of procedural rules, one could say whether a recommendation by the Commission was valid. He thinks that the Commission factually did not act as a mediator but as an arbitrator, particularly in the cases where its members knew that the parties agreed to accept the recommendation as binding. Other arbitration bodies, e.g. in professional ice hockey, must have procedural rules, so Nazi victims and their heirs should also have comparable procedural guarantees when addressing the Commission.

Kahmann draws a number of consequences from what he perceives as a lack of legal certainty and transparency. In particular he argues that legislators cannot consider imposing greater liability on private individuals (, while allowing a diminution of the liability of public museums. For these reasons, Kahmann suggests that competent legislators should act and stipulate in particular that:

  1. The Washington Principles in the German interpretation be made binding for the Commission (an approach that was suggested to Cornelius Gurlitt by the Federal Government);
  2. Recommendations of the Commission may only be given if all members participate, in particular, by attending the entire hearing;
  3. Procedural guarantees are put into effect, which are not less effective than in professional sports;
  4. The database continues to publish cases of suspicions of looted art, and continues to support Nazi victims and their heirs in the pursuit of amends (Wiedergutmachung);
  5. Provenance researchers, regardless whether they are paid by public museums or by Nazi victims, have access to all acquisition files of all public museums;
  6. As in the Gurlitt case, all art works in public museums are published online if a suspicion of looting cannot be excluded.
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