BERLIN — German officials, Jewish leaders and others marked on Monday the 20th anniversary of the international agreement on returning art looted by the Nazis with concrete pledges and proposals aimed at breathing new life into the process.
Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said it was Germany’s responsibility to improve upon the so-called Washington Principles to restore cultural objects to their original Jewish owners or heirs, noting their meaning is much more than financial.
She added that “behind every stolen object is the fate of an individual.”
Germany is implementing measures to make both research of looted items and restitution easier.
World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder said Germany has been “exemplary” in many ways, but he called for more to be done and noted several other countries that endorsed the Washington Principles have largely ignored them.
The art plundered by the Nazi regime was intended to be resold, given to senior officials or displayed in the Fuehrermuseum (Leader’s Museum) that Adolf Hitler planned for his hometown of Linz but was never built.
Germany even created a special body, known as the Limbach Commission, to mediate disputes over the ownership of art that was looted or otherwise removed from its owners under Nazi rule. It issues non-binding, though influential, recommendations.
Just before the end of the war, the United States dispatched to Europe teams of experts — museum directors, curators and educators — to find, protect and rescue cultural treasures.
These work and restitution programs enabled the return of most of the looted works to their owners soon after the end of the war.
But out of 650,000 stolen pieces, about 100,000 had not been returned by 2009, according to figures released at the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in the Czech Republic that year.