Compromise and Example: Continued Issues of Art Restitution and Holocaust-Era Looted Art


Over the past three decades, the art and museum world has taken a keen interest in the legalities of art restitution that specifically deals with artworks and other cultural property from World War II. This subset of art restitution revolves around claims that deal with Holocaust victims and their heirs who have come forward asking for the return of or acknowledgment that their property was wrongfully, and sometimes forcefully taken from them by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. This political group, better known as the Nazi Party was notorious during World War II for the looting of precious family heirlooms and other cultural property, specifically artworks. In recent years, many countries that were involved in World War II have attempted to come together to address the legal and cultural aftermath that resulted from Nazi art looting. However, other countries, including the United States, have chosen to remain within their own legal practices when it comes to Holocaust-era art restitution, thus making it difficult to reach a just conclusion for all parties involved in restitution efforts. In this paper, I will analyze the condition of various legislation and museum standards that are currently being utilized by American art museums and other cultural institutions. I shall further discuss the application of these various pieces of legislation and museum standards by analyzing relevant court cases that have dealt with Holocaust-era restitution claims. Finally, I shall make recommendations pertaining to current legislation and museum standards that currently address Holocaust-era restitution claims, and I shall suggest how both American museums and our court system can reach an outcome that is fair and widely applicable when handling such claims.

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