Conference of the German Lost Art Foundation
The confiscation of cultural assets in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR – The current state of research and perspectives
“Every museum and every library in Germany should be absolutely sure they know precisely how the items in their holdings were acquired,” said Prof. Uwe M. Schneede, executive board member of the German Lost Art Foundation. In his summing up, he said: “This conference has shown that it is high time systematic investigation began into the mechanisms and structures of state-sanctioned art theft in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR. It is important to remember that this is an issue for Germany as a whole, as artworks seized in East Germany were sold by the ‘Kommerzielle Koordinierung’ GDR state apparatus primarily for hard currency in the West, and they remain there today.”
These were the closing words of the first specialist public conference on this subject on November 21, 2016, which gave an overview of the current state of research into the confiscation of cultural assets in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR and opened up new research perspectives. The complexity of the research field became apparent during the conference. In order to investigate how institutions such as the state company Kunst und Antiquitäten GmbH (KuA) functioned, documents from the Federal Archives first need to be analyzed and witnesses from the GDR period questioned. The role of the GDR Commission for the Protection of Cultural Property also needs to be better understood. As an initial project, research could be carried out into a case from “Aktion Licht” as an example, with the aim of revealing the mechanisms at play. “Aktion Licht” was an operation carried out across East Germany in 1962 in which the GDR state apparatus systematically forced the opening of safes that had not been accessed for several years. The German Lost Art Foundation expects to be able to start providing the necessary research funding in 2017 for the systematic investigation of the issues outlined.
The German Lost Art Foundation is the national and international contact partner for all matters pertaining to the unlawful seizure of cultural assets in Germany in the 20th century, including in the Soviet Occupation Zone and the GDR. The Foundation’s work to date has focused on Nazi-confiscated property, and this will remain its primary focus in the future. A fundamental exploration of the topic area of the conference opens up an additional field of activity if the corresponding grants to fund projects are forthcoming on the political side.