Website of the German Lost Art Foundation

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Central Definitions

Nazi con­fis­cat­ed prop­er­ty

(Pre­lim­i­nary note: The term is nei­ther na­tion­al­ly nor in­ter­na­tion­al­ly de­fined in a legal­ly bind­ing sense.)

1. A cul­tur­al as­set is usu­al­ly an item of his­toric, artis­tic or oth­er cul­tur­al or iden­ti­ty-build­ing sig­nif­i­cance, such as an art­work or book. Even (for­mer) ar­ti­cles of dai­ly use (e.g. table­ware sets) may be con­sid­ered cul­tur­al as­sets sev­er­al decades lat­er. The term is broad­ly de­fined with re­gard to items seized as a re­sult of Nazi per­se­cu­tion. In this case, the ori­gin and fate of the di­vest­ed own­er are sig­nif­i­cant, not the ma­te­ri­al or (art-) his­tor­i­cal val­ue of the item.

2. With re­spect to defin­ing “con­fis­ca­tion through Nazi per­se­cu­tion”, the Guide­lines (PDF, 543 KB) pro­vide as­sis­tance on as­pects to be con­sid­ered when ex­am­in­ing whether an item has been con­fis­cat­ed un­der per­se­cu­tion, as fol­lows: (1.)Was the claimant or his/her le­gal pre­de­ces­sor per­se­cut­ed on racial, po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious or ide­o­log­i­cal grounds be­tween Jan­uary 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945? (2.)Was a loss of as­sets suf­fered dur­ing the rel­e­vant pe­ri­od as a re­sult of forced sale, ex­pro­pri­a­tion or oth­er means, and how is the bur­den of proof al­lo­cat­ed with re­gard to de­ter­min­ing the loss as a re­sult of per­se­cu­tion? (3.)Can the pre­sump­tion of loss­es through le­gal trans­ac­tions be re­fut­ed with proof that the sell­er re­ceived a rea­son­able pur­chase price and that he/she could dis­pose of the item freely, and (with re­spect to sales af­ter Septem­ber 15, 1935—the date on which the so-called Nurem­berg Race Laws were in­tro­duced, which led to a fur­ther in­crease in the ac­tu­al, po­lit­i­cal and le­gal per­se­cu­tion of Jew­ish cit­i­zens, and oth­ers) that the le­gal trans­ac­tion, in terms of sub­stan­tive con­tent, could al­so have tak­en place had the Na­tion­al So­cial­ists not been in pow­er, or the fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests of the per­se­cut­ed in­di­vid­u­al were safe­guard­ed in a par­tic­u­lar way with sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess, e.g. through a trans­fer of as­sets abroad?The term “con­fis­cat­ed through Nazi per­se­cu­tion” al­so cov­ers works of art that were sold out of ne­ces­si­ty dur­ing times of eco­nom­ic hard­ship, with­out phys­i­cal co­er­cion, ei­ther in Ger­many or abroad (known as “flight as­sets”).

Loot­ed prop­er­ty

We talk of "loot­ed prop­er­ty" in con­nec­tion with World War II when a cul­tur­al as­set was il­le­gal­ly seized, re­moved or re­lo­cat­ed dur­ing wartime or as a re­sult of mil­i­tary con­flict. The item is con­sid­ered a cul­tur­al as­set if it pos­sess­es his­toric, artis­tic or oth­er­wise cul­tur­al or iden­ti­ty-build­ing sig­nif­i­cance, such as an art­work or book. Even ar­ti­cles of dai­ly use (e.g. cut­lery) can be re­gard­ed as cul­tur­al as­sets sev­er­al decades lat­er. The le­gal pro­vi­sions of Ar­ti­cle 56 of the Hague Con­ven­tion on land war­fare of 1907 ap­ply in this con­text.

Prove­nance Re­search

The word "prove­nance" comes from the Latin word provenire, mean­ing “to come forth”. Prove­nance re­search in­ves­ti­gates the ori­gin and his­to­ry of own­er­ship of a cul­tur­al as­set. It is most com­mon­ly known as a sub-dis­ci­pline of art his­to­ry, but prove­nance re­search is con­duct­ed in oth­er sci­en­tif­ic fields as well. Prove­nance re­search is one of the core tasks of ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion de­vot­ed to pre­serv­ing cul­tur­al as­sets.

The ne­ces­si­ty of prove­nance re­search, par­tic­u­lar­ly in con­nec­tion to the area of "Nazi con­fis­cat­ed prop­er­ty" was na­tion­al­ly and in­ter­na­tion­al­ly em­pha­sised in the Wash­ing­ton Prin­ci­ples and the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion.