Cultural property expropriated as a result of (Nazi) persecution refers to the cultural property which was confiscated from persecuted persons between 1933 and 1945. The terms "Nazi-looted art" or "Nazi-looted cultural property" are used synonymously. The international Washington Principles of 1998 use the term "Nazi-confiscated art”. The German Common Statement of 1999 speaks of " Nazi-confiscated art, especially from Jewish property". Furthermore, the terms are not defined in a national or international binding manner.
The concept of cultural property is understood in a broad sense within the context of coming to terms with the National Socialist theft of cultural property and can go beyond legal definitions, such as those of the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property (§ 2 paragraph 1 KGSG). Thus, everyday objects of use at the time (e.g. plate service, motor vehicles) can also be considered cultural property. When considering cultural property expropriated as a result of (Nazi) persecution, the fate of the owner concerned and the history of loss of the object are decisive, but not the material or (art) historical value.
The concept of Nazi persecution-related seizure encompasses different groups of cases of property loss during the period of National Socialist tyranny (as distinguished, for example, from voluntary disposal). For the examination of this question in the practice of museums, collections, archives, etc., Guidelines were published by the Minister of State for Culture and the Media, which provide guidance (p. 31 ff.). The Guidelines deal with the questions of identifying persecution under National Socialism, the occurrence of a loss of property, and also the allocation of the burden of proof or the easing of the burden of proof that the loss occurred as a result of persecution.
In European and non-European states that were not allied with the Deutsches Reich and offered exile to those persecuted, seeking refuge and displaced persons often sold cultural property they had been able to export from Germany between 1933 and 1945. The objects of these sales are often described as "Fluchtgut" ("flight assets"). Such disposals in exile are currently being handled differently and are the subject of professional and political debate (see Provenance Research Manual, p. 16).
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.
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.