Dutch museums have at least 139 works stolen from Jews in WWII

Dutch museums have at least 139 works of art in their collections which were probably stolen from their Jewish owners during World War II, according to research by the Dutch museum association.

Between 1933 and 1945 many Jewish collectors and dealers were forced to sell their works of art by the Nazi occupiers. Other paintings were simply confiscated or stolen. Many ended up in museum collections after the war ended.

A recent string of high-profile claims for the return of stolen art led the culture ministry in 2009 to back a widespread investigation into the antecedents of museum collections.

The research, which 162 museums took part in, turned up 69 paintings, including works by Matisse and Kandinsky, 24 drawings and 13 Jewish ritual objects with disputed origins.


The items are currently in the collections of 41 different museums. Most objects with a questionable ownership are held by the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, the NRC reported. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Museum and Stedelijk Museum also have stolen art in their collections.

In 61 cases the owner has been indentified and the heirs can make a claim to have the object returned via a special government committee.  A further 78 items will be included in a special website in an effort to track down their owners. The site is due to go online at 16.00 hours.

‘A lot of time may have gone by since the end of the war but that is no reason not to look at where art comes from,’ said association director Siebe Weide in a statement.

Famous case

The most famous case of stolen art in the Netherlands is that of the Goudstikker collection, sold for a bargain price to the Nazi occupiers. In 2006, the collection was finally returned to the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Dutch art collector, who died while trying to reach exile ahead of the Nazi invasion.

Goudstikker left his collection in the hands of his staff, who sold the stock of at least 1,113 paintings for just 2.5 million guilders to German art dealer Alois Miedl and field marshall Hermann Goering.

After the war, the paintings ended up at museums around the world. In 2006, the Dutch authorities agreed to return 202 pieces to Goudstikker’s heirs.

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