Holocaust-Era Property Restitution

The United States has strongly supported efforts to gain restitution of or compensation for property that was confiscated by the Nazis and their collaborators from 1933 to 1945 and/or subsequently nationalized by the Communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe. A successful property restitution program is an indicator of the effectiveness of the rule of law in a country, and non-discriminatory, effective property laws are of crucial importance to a healthy market economy. From 1945 to 2018, for example, the German government paid approximately $86.8 billion in restitution and compensation to Holocaust victims and their heirs. Nonetheless, there is more to be done to find a measure of justice for Holocaust victims, survivors, and heirs. Many European countries still have important work to do in relation to restitution of or compensation for movable and immovable private, communal/religious, and heirless property seized or wrongfully transferred under duress. The JUST Act Report, a Congressionally mandated report by the U.S. Department of State, provides further details regarding restitution efforts in 46 countries in Europe.


Strong U.S. government leadership and advocacy were decisive in the conclusion of many of the major restitution agreements to date. Since the late 1990s, several important agreements have provided new payments to victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs: the Swiss Bank Settlement (dormant bank accounts); the German Foundation Agreement (slave and forced labor, insurance, property); two Austrian Funds (slave and forced labor, insurance, private property); the French Bank Agreement (bank accounts); agreements on insurance; and restitution agreements and settlements in a number of European countries.

Then-U.S. Special Advisor on Holocaust Issues Stuart Eizenstat and French Human Rights Ambassador Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay sign the agreement in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2014.
U.S. Special Advisor on Holocaust Issues Stuart Eizenstat and French Human Rights Ambassador Patrizianna Sparacino-Thiellay sign the agreement to establish the Holocaust Deportation Claims Program in Washington, DC, on December 8, 2014.

In 2014, the Department entered into an agreement with the French government to establish the Holocaust Deportation Claims Program to compensate Holocaust survivors who were deported by France’s state rail company SNCF during the Nazi occupation but were previously excluded from French compensation programs.

The Return of Holocaust-era Looted and Confiscated Moveable Property

Sgt. Harold Maus of Scranton, PA examines an album of engravings by Albrecht Duerer that was found in a vault containing numerous other art treasures that were looted by the Nazi regime. (Date: April 17, 1945. Photographer: Donald R. Ornitz. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park)
Sgt. Harold Maus examines an album of engravings by Albrecht Duerer that was found in a vault containing numerous other art treasures that were looted by the Nazi regime.

In 2023, we marked the 25th anniversary of the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets. Hosted by the United States and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the conference focused on a wide range of remaining Holocaust-era property issues, including insurance, art and other cultural property. Representatives of 44 countries and 13 nongovernmental organizations, art museums, and auction houses attended. A major accomplishment was reaching consensus on the Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated Art. These non-binding principles provided a framework and encouragement to governments to develop processes to research, identify, and return property. The Holocaust was one of the greatest organized thefts in history, providing a source of revenue to the Third Reich and the Axis Powers while attempting to wipe out all vestiges of Jewish life and culture in Europe. The scale of looting by the Nazis and their collaborators was unprecedented, encompassing art, books and other cultural objects, businesses, land, residences, and cultural/religious properties such as synagogues, sacred religious items, cemeteries, schools, and community centers. The estimates made at the Washington Conference of some 650,000 looted paintings – some 100,000 of which are still missing – underline the scale of the theft.

The Department of State does not espouse individual Holocaust-era property claims; rather, it serves as an advocate to foreign governments for comprehensive private property laws or mechanisms that would apply fairly and equitably to all whose property was confiscated during the Holocaust era or subsequently nationalized during the Communist era. Claims for artwork should be forwarded to foreign governments directly.

Since 2015, SEHI has supported the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Association of Art Museum Directors, and the American Alliance of Museums in their workshops on provenance research. Their initiative has strengthened art restitution in the United States by welcoming both museum professionals and independent analysts to exchange best practices and improve provenance research skills.

The following information is pertinent to claims for works of art and related property:

  • The Holocaust Claims Processing Office of the New York State Department of Financial Services was established in 1997 to assist Holocaust victims worldwide, free of charge, with restitution claims for assets lost as a result of Nazi persecution, including bank accounts, insurance policies, works of art, and other material losses.
  • The American Association of Museums established the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, as a central registry of objects in U.S. museums that could have changed hands in Europe during the Nazi era, 1933-1945.
  • The Library of Congress provides online access to the Katalog der Privat-Gallerie Adolf Hitlers, an album of 74 reproductions of paintings and two tapestries in Adolf Hitler’s private art collection including portraits of his family.
  • A bibliography with information on looted art may be accessed on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • NARA’s International Research Portal is a collaboration of national and other archival institutions with records that pertain to Nazi-era cultural property. Also very useful is NARA’s Holocaust research page that directs viewers to additional internal resources and explains the process.
  • The Looted Art and Cultural Property Initiative by the Claims Conference-WJRO provides links to domestic and international resources on looted art.
  • The Monuments Men Foundation For The Preservation of Art archive has 6,850 archival documents and nearly 115,000 digital assets, as well as oral histories with some members of the Monuments Men who recovered stolen artworks at the end of WWII.

Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research

Teaching Holocaust history requires a high level of sensitivity and keen awareness of the complexity of the subject matter. Providing an accurate understanding of the Holocaust and the lessons that it offers can help to confront growing antisemitism worldwide.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues heads the U.S. delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Currently, the IHRA has 35 member states, as well as liaison and observer countries and partner organizations. The body works to strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust education, research, and remembrance and to uphold the tenets of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration, which were supplemented on January 19, 2020, with the issuance of the 2020 IHRA Ministerial Declaration.

Image of the IHRA declaration page, with flags
On January 19, 2020, the United States joined other nations in endorsing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance 2020 Ministerial Declaration, which pledged each country to fight the rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination; confront Holocaust distortion and denial; and encourage historically accurate Holocaust education, remembrance, and research.


Remembering the Roma Genocide

The U.S. Department of State observes August 2nd as the annual commemoration of the Nazi genocide against the Roma and Sinti communities during WWII. In his 2023 statement, Secretary Blinken explained: “We emphasize the importance of remembering the genocide of Roma. And we acknowledge that history has often neglected this genocide, which has contributed to the prejudice, inequality, and exclusion that Roma and Sinti communities still experience.” The U.S. Department of State has used the working definition of anti-Roma racism since it was adopted by IHRA as a legally non-binding definition in 2020. As a member of IHRA, the United States has encouraged other governments and international organizations to adopt the definition.

A woman presenting content on a wall display
(Photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Teaching About the Holocaust and the Roma Genocide

SEHI supports the use of the IHRA Recommendations on Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust to ensure that the Holocaust is properly and accurately taught around the world. An online teaching resource about the Roma and Sinti genocide is now available from IHRA. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers important Guidelines for Teaching About the Holocaust that reflect approaches appropriate for effective teaching as well as lesson plans and a compendium of teaching materials by topic. The Museum also provides extensive information on the Roma genocide. Additional resources on Holocaust education are listed in the Resource Documents tab of this website.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future