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Central Terms

Cul­tur­al prop­er­ty ex­pro­pri­at­ed as a re­sult of (Nazi) per­se­cu­tion (Nazi-loot­ed art/cul­tur­al prop­er­ty)

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).

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.