Works of art stolen from Dutch Jews during World War II and returned from Germany by allied troops are to be given back to the country’s Jewish community if the original owners cannot be found.
The state’s cultural heritage department is currently looking again at the ownership of some 3,700 works of art, brought back to the Netherlands after the end of the war, including paintings, drawings and furniture.
Those which cannot be reunited with their rightful owners will be looked after by a Jewish cultural institution and ultimately will transfer back to the community, broadcaster NOS reported on Friday. The works will also go on display.
Jewish organsationCentraal Joods Overleg (CJO) described Friday’s decision as a ‘breakthrough’. ‘We are very happy because this is the most justifiable thing to do,’ said chairman Ronny Naftaniel. ‘They were stolen from the Jewish community and should be given back to them.’
‘We have been too passive about this,’ Van Engelshoven told Nieuwsuur in an interview. ‘We want to be an active government which informs people and which takes action itself.’
Last December, the Council for Culture published a long-awaited report on Dutch restitutions policy, which has been criticised for several high-profile decisions not to return art in recent years.
The review, Striving for Justice, admitted that some serious criticisms of the Dutch Restitutions Committee appear to be valid, although its work meets with ‘general approval’.
It said the Dutch reputation as a role model for other countries ‘has been undermined by a limited number of requests…that have been rejected in recent years’, while the government has a duty to actively research looted art and reach out to heirs.
In addition, it said, the committee should not ‘balance the interests’ of modern-day museums, where the art has ended up, against those of the families in any way.
Giving the 3,700 works, currently held in a special depot, back to the community was one of the options mooted by the committee.
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