In First, Israeli Museums to Help Locate Jewish Owners of Nazi-looted Art

As opposed to other countries who have identified legal owners, Israel has neglected to do so and is in violation of its own treaties, says Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets.

Israeli museums are being asked to cooperate and help locate art works in their collections that were stolen during the Nazi period from Jews and others.

The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets announced Wednesday that a number of well known Israeli museums, including the Tel Aviv Art Museum, the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, the Museum of Art Ein Harod and the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum all have art works, or it is reasonable to assume they have such works that were looted from Jews.

The Restitution Company will hold a meeting for the first time Thursday with representatives of the museums so as to advance a plan to locate these art works and return them to their legal owners. “As opposed to other countries around the world, the museums in Israel never actually acted to identify the stolen works, publish them and locate their lawful owners - and that is in violation of the treaties the State of Israel has signed,” said Dr. Israel Peleg, the CEO of the Restitution Company.

The existence of stolen art works in the collections of Israeli museums has been known for many years. They were moved around in the years after the war in an attempt to save from the a destroyed Europe. They include paintings, sculptures and even books of Judaica; which reached Israel in various shipments with the aid of the Allies, as well as from private donations.

The Israel Museum, which dealt with this issue in the past, even had an exhibition named "Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust in the Israel Museum,” which includes 50 items out of some 1,200 artworks and other items that reached the museum, but the identity of their original owners is unknown.

But so far no organized action has been taken to catalog the stolen artworks and locate their owners or heirs. “While other countries are making active efforts and are investing their money - including publishing databases and research, implementing registration, locating and cataloging information in archives, conducting campaigns to locate the owners - in Israel no systematic and adequate effort is actually being carried out by the museums to locate the owners and their heirs of the artworks,” the Restitution Company’s announcement stated.

The artworks that are now found in the museums in Israel are just a drop in the sea; during the Second World War the Nazis looted hundreds of thousands of works of art from Jews. Most have never been returned to this day to their owners. Some are exhibited in museums all over the world. In recent years a number of international conferences have been called in an attempt to deal with the problem and initiate legislation on the matter.

The question of the stolen artworks recently hit the headlines after it was revealed that Germany had found a huge trove of art, estimated to be worth about a billion euros ($1.36 billion), which also includes works suspected as looted. A special investigative team is still examining the source of these works and will try to return any to their lawful owners, from whom many of the works were looted during the period before and during the Holocaust.

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem