Swiss Jews meet with Zurich mayor over suspected Nazi-linked art collection

The Jewish Voice 17 January 2022

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FCSI) has held talks with the president of the Zurich Art Society and the Mayor of Zurich over allegations that a famous private Swiss art collection contains works of art stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners.

In December, SIG denounced the Kunsthaus Zürich and the E.G. Bührle Collection Foundation for taking a “partly irritating and partly frightening” tone about the origins of its collection, even while confirming that 13 of its paintings had been stolen by the Nazis from French Jews.

The discussions between SIG, the Zurich Art Society and Zurich Mayor Corine Mauch signals progress on the matter of the controversy surrounding the Bührle Collection, according to SIG.

SIG President Ralph Lewin and Jacques Lande, President of the Jewish community of Zurich, met with Mauch to discuss the handling of the Bührle Collection and the extension of the Kunsthaus Zürich gallery.

The talks focused on SIG’s concerns over a loan agreement of the contested works of art, which is expected to occur soon, as well as a new loan contract, which will come into force as soon as possible so “that trust in the institutions involved can be partially restored.”

“Another demand which the SIG hopes will soon be met relates to provenance research on the works in the Bührle Collection,” SIG said in a statement. “A criticism of this research is that it has been insufficiently independent.”

They added: “The provenance of the paintings should be evaluated by a completely independent, neutral and internationally staffed group of experts, as all parties involved have already publicly confirmed.”

SIG called for the Zurch Art Society to seek out the origins and previous ownership of the works of art, as it has assumed responsibility for the provenance of the collection.

A top priority for SIG is to drop the distinction between art looted by the Nazis and art that was either abandoned or sold under duress, and instead use the term “Nazi-confiscated cultural property.”

They noted that the Bern Art Society has already begun using the term with its collection.

Lewin also made an appeal during talks with the Zurich Art Society for all all confiscated works to be examined.

The Zurich Art Society has now indicated to the SIG that the Zurich Kunsthaus could in future also in the future use the internationally recognized term “cultural property seized under Nazi persecution” for the purposes of its provenance research. Doing so would fulfil a central demand of the SIG.

“The SIG appreciates the discussions that have taken place so far and the exchange of views in a spirit of partnership both with representatives of the City and Canton of Zurich and with the Zurich Art Society,” it said. “The association is pinning its hopes on a new start soon in terms of personnel at the Kunsthaus Zurich, especially in the handling of the Bührle dossier. A new beginning could make it possible to enter into a forward-looking and constructive dialogue with the Kunsthaus. In any case, the SIG will critically observe the implementation of its demands and continue to closely monitor the issue.”
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