WJRO Statement on New French Law on Holocaust Era Art
(New York, NY) July 24, 2023: The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes a significant new law that went into effect yesterday in France, which expedites the restitution of Jewish-owned paintings, books, and religious items that were confiscated during the Holocaust and its aftermath and are currently held in French custody. On Thursday, July 13, both houses of France’s parliament unanimously adopted legislation that makes it easier for French museums to return looted works to former owners.
Gideon Taylor, President, WJRO and Mark Weitzman, Chief Operating Officer, WJRO issued the following statement:
“This law holds the promise of rectifying historical injustices and signifies the commitment of the French government to address the restitution of Jewish-owned paintings, books, and religious items that were unjustly confiscated during the Holocaust and its aftermath and are currently held in French custody. With this important step, it is our hope that these cultural treasures will be rightfully returned to their original owners or their descendants, ending the prolonged wait for justice that Holocaust survivors and their families have endured.”
Under the efforts of France’s Ministry of Culture, important work has been done to locate the rightful owners of approximately 2,200 pieces that remain in the custody of national museums. These items are suspected to have been taken from Jewish owners between January 20, 1933 (the date of Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor), and May 8, 1945 (the date of Germany’s surrender to the Allies). Until now, the restitution of these 2,200 items to their rightful owners was complicated by French legislation giving museums “inalienable” ownership.
A considerable number of these items were either taken from or abandoned by French Jews, but some were mistakenly stolen from German Jews and subsequently sent to France. To establish the provenance of stolen works, the ministry has collaborated closely with academics and museums, resulting in the successful return of 76 such pieces since 2013. Under the new law, these efforts will be expedited.
The French Ministry of Culture estimates that around 100,000 artworks were seized in France during World War II. Of these, approximately 60,000 items discovered in Germany at the time of liberation were repatriated to France, and 45,000 of them were promptly returned to their rightful owners. However, about 2,200 of the most renowned looted artworks from that era, known as MNR works, were entrusted to national museums such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
As for the remaining paintings, they were sold by the administration of the Domains in the early 1950s, and many of these works subsequently re-entered the art market.
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