France Launches Project to Return Nazi-looted Artworks to Jewish Families

French Culture Ministry says project will look into cultural artifacts kept in French museums, which hold some 2,000 items brought from Germany

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File photo: Tourists wait in line to visit the Louvre museum as it reopens, in Paris, May, 29, 2019.
File photo: Tourists wait in line to visit the Louvre museum as it reopens, in Paris, May, 29, 2019.Credit: AP

France created a task force to return cultural artifacts taken from Jews during World War II to their owners and descendants.

The Culture Ministry said Wednesday that the project will look into such objects held by French museums, AFP reported. French institutions hold some 2,000 items brought from Germany whose owners have yet to be identified, according to the French news agency.

>> Read more: A crusade to recover Jewish art lost during the Holocaust

“This is our duty to the victims of plundering,” Culture Minister Franck Riester said. “It’s about memory and justice.”

In May, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that compensating Polish Jews for damages they suffered in Word War II would be a victory for Adolf Hitler.

His controversial statement, made a few days before the election to the European Parliament, joins a string of other statements made in recent years, which have evoked criticism in Israel and among world Jewry.

In a political rally in Lodz, Morawiecki said that as long as his Law and Justice Party is in power, Poland would not compensate anyone for anything that happened during the war. “If someone says that Poland must pay for damages, we won’t agree to this,” he said.

Morawiecki went on to say that Poland being forced to pay for war damages would be an inversion of criminals (Germany) and victims (Poland). This would be contrary to international law and would constitute “a posthumous victory for Hitler.”

Material compensation for war damages, including the return of property taken from Polish Jews, has recently returned to headlines, renewing tensions between Poland and Israel. 

The official Israeli delegation to Warsaw whose visit to Poland had been reportedly canceled earlier in May, did in fact arrive in the eastern European country but hid it from the media.

The delegation was meant to discuss the restoration of Jewish property stolen from Polish Jews during the Holocaust, a contentious issue between the two countries. However, after Poland cancelled the visit, claiming it will not discuss that matter since it was a victim in World War II and thus should not be saddled with financial obligations, the delegation members made do with a meeting with the Jewish community heads in Poland, sources told Haaretz.