Germany must introduce a law specifically aimed at facilitating the return of Nazi-looted art, the head of the World Jewish Congress said Thursday after meeting with top German officials.
WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said there were still thousands of priceless artworks in the hands of individuals and museums that were stolen from Jews under the Third Reich and said the country was not legally equipped to handle such cases.
“One of the main reasons that these problems still exist is that there is no law in Germany that addresses the restitution of looted art,” he said at a museum documenting the Nazi terror.
He noted that Germany had already negotiated compensation on “the difficult issues of slave labour, stolen bank deposits and insurance policies”.
“I encourage Germany to deal with Nazi-looted art in the same comprehensive manner,” he said, calling the works “the last prisoners of World War II”.
Lauder said he pressed this point in talks with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Justice Minister Heiko Maas.
The onus should be on museums, not the victims of Nazi plundering, to search their collections for stolen works and track down their rightful owners, he said.
“Austria has done this. France and Holland have made steps in this direction and the UK has a commission that is available to examine claims and advise the government on restitution,” he said.
“But this is Germany, where the crime began. More is required.”
Lauder reiterated a call he made in an interview with AFP in November for Germany to lift a 30-year statute of limitations on reclaiming stolen property, and for the formation of an international commission that would help process claims and examine public collections in Germany for stolen works.
The state of Bavaria said this month it was drafting a national law to eliminate the statue of limitations that some art collectors have used to protect their holdings from claims stemming from the Nazi era.
Lauder welcomed the draft law, which is to go before the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament which represents Germany’s 16 states, on February 14, as “evidence of good faith”.