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Access to Archival Documents

The Albanian Archive reported having no property documents for Holocaust victims or their heirs in archival records.  Overall availability and integrity of archival documents are inconsistent.  In 2009, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum concluded a small archival preservation and copying project, which was supported by and made possible thanks to the cooperation of the Albanian government.

There are no reported immovable, movable, or cultural property claims submitted, though if there were, acquiring supporting archival documents would be difficult.  The fear prevalent in Albania during the Communist era caused people to avoid being linked to the ‘wrong’ resistance group, including any groups that might have sheltered Jews, even after the Communist regime collapsed in 1991.  The residual culture of silence from the Communist past partly explains why the rescue of Albanian Jews remained relatively unknown for many decades.  Some survivors could not overcome the difficulty of grappling with a painful past and did not tell their stories.  Albania’s Jewish community is small, and Jewish organizations and their activities are not well known to the general public.  Albanian archives and records contain many inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or gaps, making collection of facts difficult.


Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Most government and civil society sources voiced doubts that there was any Holocaust-related movable property in Argentina.  All agreed that some of the Nazis who came to Argentina after WWII used false names in an attempt to immigrate as refugees; therefore, they rarely arrived with large amounts of belongings.  Both Fundación Tzedaká and a law firm that had been involved in assisting Holocaust survivors with restitution claims stated that they have not processed claims for any movable property.

The existence of smuggled Nazi-looted and confiscated art in Argentina is possible, however, given that other items from the period have surfaced in recent years.  For example, the Argentine Federal Police confiscated what was thought to be the largest cache of Nazi memorabilia outside of Europe in a raid on a local antiques store in June 2017.  These objects are believed to have been either smuggled into Argentina by Nazi escapees or forged.  Through DAIA, the Jewish community became a party in the case against the antiques shop owner, asserting that their sale allegedly violated either the antidiscrimination law (if they were forgeries) or the patrimony law concerning import controls of cultural artifacts (if found to be genuine).  These pieces were donated to Argentina’s Holocaust museum.  This case suggests other items might have been smuggled out of Europe in the aftermath of the war, but to this day none have surfaced that involve Nazi-confiscated or looted art.  None of the items confiscated in June 2017 were reported to be property stolen from survivors.

Argentine museums do not do provenance research on their collections, and there have been difficulties researching the activities of Argentina’s art market during the Holocaust.  The Argentine Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina, created in 1997, concluded that no looted art was or is held by the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.  The Commission admitted that it had not checked any other state-run museum and that it faced difficulties researching the activities of Argentina’s art market during the Holocaust, particularly those of the Witcomb, Wildenstein, and Muller art galleries.

Access to Archival Documents

In 1992, the government announced that it would open the archives related to Nazi arrivals in Argentina, extradition requests for Nazi war criminals, and laws that prevented Jewish immigration during the same period.  In 2017, the government initiated the digitalization of the archives for convenient access and further study.  It has shared copies of these digitized archives with DAIA and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and researchers can access the documents through these organizations.

The government created the Truth Commission for Nazi Activities in Argentina in 1997 to investigate Nazi immigration to Argentina and possible government acquiescence at the time.  A study published by the commission found 180 cases of confirmed Nazi war criminals who entered Argentina.  The government did not repeal a 1948 law barring Jewish immigration to Argentina until 2005.


Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Compensation for and restitution of looted art remains a work in progress.  Nazis looted an estimated 600,000 paintings from Jews in Europe during World War II, 100,000 of which remain missing.  In 1998, the German government signed the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.  In the years since, it has returned more than 16,000 individual objects (including books and objects in collections) to Holocaust survivors or their heirs.  On November 26, 2018, Germany hosted an international conference on the 20th anniversary of the Washington Principles to draw attention to the progress made and to generate momentum where implementation of the Principles had fallen short, including in Germany.  Germany and the United States also signed a joint declaration during the conference reaffirming their commitment to the Washington Principles and acknowledging the need to improve implementation. Germany pledged that it would improve the procedures of the Limbach Commission on Holocaust-era art claims to require German museums to participate in the proceedings. Germany also committed its federally funded art museums to expediting the provenance research on their collections to determine if they possess any art potentially confiscated by the Nazis.

In 2015, the German government established the German Lost Art Foundation (DZK) in Magdeburg to promote provenance research.  The DZK has become Germany’s national and international contact partner for all matters pertaining to the illegal seizure of cultural assets in Germany since 1933, with a focus on seizure by Nazis from Jewish owners.  The government funds the DZK, which had a budget of $6.86 million in 2018 and $8.95 million in 2019.  From 2008 to 2018, the DZK and its predecessor, the Center for Provenance Research in Berlin, supported 273 projects with funding totaling $27.3 million.  These projects have examined more than 113,000 objects held in museums to determine their provenance.

The German Lost Art Foundation also maintains an online “Lost Art” database that documents objects proven or suspected of having been confiscated by the Nazis.  Heirs can use it to list objects seized from their families.  The database currently contains approximately 169,000 detailed descriptions and several million summaries of objects.  In 2013, Christie’s auction house used this database to determine that two vases consigned for sale had been looted by the Nazis in 1939.  Following further investigation, the FBI art crime team organized the return of the vases to the owner’s heirs in an August 1, 2019 ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.  Additionally, the DZK provides financial support for searches that trace relatives and heirs of Holocaust victims in order to return looted art to the rightful owners.  The DZK is working to complete a comprehensive database of Germany’s federal museums by 2020.  Public universities in Bonn, Hamburg, and Munich have established professorships for provenance research.

In 2003, the government established an advisory commission to mediate and provide recommendations on disputed looted art cases upon the request of both parties involved. Thus far, the commission has provided just 16 recommendations, which has led some observers, including the Claims Conference’s lead negotiator and the president of the World Jewish Congress, to criticize its effectiveness and lack of transparency. In response to criticism about the lack of Jewish members on the advisory commission, the Commissioner added two Jewish members in 2016. In 2019, the federal government began requiring the federally funded institutions to agree to mediation by the commission at a claimant’s request. Previously, both parties had to agree to enter mediation. This change, which benefited claimants, was part of the November 2018 U.S.-Germany Joint Declaration [4 MB]. It should be noted that the statutes of limitation also continue to hinder claims for restitution.

The German government maintains possession of the remaining unclaimed objects obtained from “Central Collecting Points” set up by the Allied Forces at the end of World War II.  Unclaimed objects include 3,000 works of art, 4,000 coins, and about 6,600 books seized by the Nazi regime or by Nazi officials operating in a private capacity.  The government is working to return these items to their rightful owners, but progress is slow.

Access to Archival Documents

The German Federal Archives provides access to documents about cultural assets stolen during the Nazi era.  In principle, every person has the right to use the federal archives upon request.  The federal archives are digitizing a steadily growing portion of their archive holdings and, to the extent legally permissible, making them available online.

The Federal Finance Ministry (BMF) launched a project in August 2018 to create a central interconnected digital portal to find documents from state archives throughout Germany specifically related to Holocaust compensation and restitution.  The BMF is also working to create a new database that combines all data concerning individual compensation proceedings and makes it accessible to scientific researchers, as well as to Holocaust survivors and heirs.

The International Archival Programs Division of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has been active in Germany for more than 25 years.  It has enjoyed excellent cooperation with the German Federal Archives and the political archive of the German Foreign Office, from which the USHMM recently acquired several million pages of Holocaust-relevant archival documentation on microfilm and as digital scans.  The Arolsen Archives in Bad Arolsen (formerly called the International Tracing Service) is a separate archive that contains about 30 million documents from concentration and extermination camps, details of forced labor, and files on displaced persons.  The Arolsen Archives, which is governed by an international committee and has been fully funded by the German government since 2011, is digitizing its archives to improve accessibility.

At the state level, the USHMM has signed archival access agreements with North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, and Bavaria.  Cooperation with the state of Hamburg has also been excellent, despite the lack of an official access agreement.  Access to the State Archive in Berlin yielded the records of more than 150,000 individual trials against Jews and other victims prosecuted by Nazi courts in the Berlin area.  The Berlin State Archive recently suspended its cooperation with the USHMM, however, citing data privacy concerns with regard to the reproduction of records.  As of mid-2019, the archive was preparing the digitalization of its data, and discussions about access were ongoing.  Other states are similarly concerned about data protection, and this has slowed progress.  Cooperation with Saxony is underway, while discussions with Bremen and Saarland are pending.  The U.S. Embassy in Berlin and U.S. consulates have advocated with local authorities throughout Germany in support of USHMM requests for access to state archives.

Some advocates for Holocaust survivors and descendants of Holocaust victims have pointed out that Property (Asset) Declaration forms completed by Jews in Nazi Germany in April 1938 remain scattered among archives in the different German states and have not been digitized.  They add that other files relating to post-war claims for Holocaust-era compensation and restitution are located in more than a dozen archives in the country and are generally not publicly accessible.  The German government and relevant NGOs and historians are working to develop a plan for the preservation and collection of these documents for use by historians and others.  The sheer volume of these archives and the privacy issues involved complicate their task.

U.S. Citizen Claims

The deadlines for many of the restitution funds for Holocaust victims expired many years ago.  However, victims who have not yet filed claims can still do so for some funds.  The Claims Conference serves as the primary partner for Holocaust victims during the filing process, offering assistance free of charge.  Moreover, the Claims Conference and the German government work to identify and contact potential claimants.


Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

While the 1998 Swiss bank settlement covered the vast majority of restitution claims, looted art did not fall under the agreement.  As a signatory to the 1998 Washington Principles, Switzerland continues to support the identification of Nazi-looted art.  Following the adoption of the Washington Principles, the Swiss government established the Contact Bureau for Looted Art, with the Federal Council commissioning the Federal Department of Home Affairs and Foreign Ministry, in collaboration with the cantons and the Swiss Museums Association, to draw up a memorandum to achieve “just and fair solutions” concerning restitution claims of Nazi-looted art.  The memorandum outlined several possible actions to take if investigations determined the existence of Nazi-looted art in Swiss institutions.  Possible actions included the return of the artwork to the former owners or their surviving heirs or tying the return of the artwork to a loan or donation of the work to the institution that uncovered its provenance.

According to the Director of the Fine Arts Museum of Bern, that museum’s acceptance of the controversial Cornelius Gurlitt bequest in 2016, which comprises hundreds of artworks once held in Germany by the son of a Nazi art dealer, has increased awareness about Nazi-looted art in Switzerland.  Since the bequest, the Swiss government allocated more funding and expertise to address the issue, with the Federal Office for Culture for the first time designating $2 million to Swiss museums for conducting provenance research during the years 2016 to 2020.  In addition, the Fine Arts Museum of Bern asked the commission that was created in Germany to review other parts of the Gurlitt collection to determine if any of its bequests involved Nazi‑confiscated art.  So far, 12 provenance research projects have been completed, and an additional 14 projects were announced in November 2018.  The office published online the findings of its completed provenance research.  The Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs ministries also published a progress report on the Swiss government’s work in the field of Nazi-looted art for the period 2011-2016, which detailed the Swiss National Museum’s return of a silver drinking vessel in 2012 to the heirs of Jewish art collector Emma Budge, whose collection in Hamburg, Germany, was seized by Nazi authorities and auctioned for Nazi profit.

There remains much art in Switzerland that has not yet been researched, but in the decentralized Swiss system, many museums and art collections are under the purview of the cantons rather than the federal government or are maintained by private organizations and private individuals.

Access to Archival Documents

The University of Bern and the Fine Arts Museum of Bern train provenance researchers on Nazi‑looted art, while several universities, including the University of Bern and the University of Basel, conduct research on the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes.  The Federal Archives maintain records of Swiss institutions’ research on looted art for public access.  Switzerland also contributes reports to the German Lost Art Internet Database to document Nazi-looted art.

Swiss institutions such as the Archives for Contemporary History in Zurich maintain an archival access agreement with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The Federal Archives are open to all individuals, regardless of nationality and profession, and are accessible for restitution claim research.

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