Britain Expected to Come Clean on Nazi-looted Art in Its Galleries

Britain’s public art galleries and museums are expected to admit in the coming days to having acquired thousands of artworks since 1933 that may have been looted from Holocaust victims.

London’s Tate Gallery alone is expected to reveal that it may have more than 100 Nazi-looted paintings on its walls.

The anticipated statement from the museums follows a call by the government last year for all public galleries to audit their collections for suspected looted artworks.

It is believed that lack of time has prevented the galleries and museums from conducting full audits of major silver, stamp, coin and firearm collections that have been acquired since 1933, when Hitler came to power.

The “suspect list” to be declared by the Tate includes famous works by Monet, Degas and Picasso.

The gallery is also currently facing a claim for an 18th-century painting, “View of Hampton Court,” by Dutch master Jan Griffier the Elder.

Two brothers and their sister, who fled to England from their home in Dusseldorf, Germany, say the work was stolen after their father, a German Jewish banker, was shot by the Nazis in the 1930s.

The gallery says it has delayed a settlement on the grounds that restitution is a political matter and the government must decide how such claims should be handled.

In a related development, the British government announced last week that it is setting up a panel to adjudicate claims by Holocaust survivors and their heirs to artworks in national collections.

Arts Minister Alan Howarth said the government wants to create a system that would resolve questions of ownership that “arise from the terrible events of the Nazi era.”

He hoped that the panel, which will include lawyers, historians and art specialists, will serve as an alternative to costly legal proceedings.

The moves in Britain come as other countries are returning Nazi-looted works.

France recently returned 13 works that were looted by the Nazis from Jewish-run galleries, while Germany has said that it wants to accelerate the return of art stolen by the Nazis.

Last week, the Israel Museum said a British Jew is the rightful owner of a work by Camille Pissarro that is part of its collection.

Gerta Silberberg, who is the heir to works that the Nazis forced her father-in- law to sell in 1935, said she would allow the Jerusalem-based museum to continue to display the French Jewish painter’s “Boulevard Montmartre, Spring 1897.”

In another development, the British government last week declared that it had met all claims on property seized in Palestine during World War II.

A report published by the Department of Trade and Industry concluded that the matter was “comprehensively settled” in agreements between Israel and Britain between 1950 and 1964.

The report was commissioned following allegations in 1998 that the British government had failed to return property confiscated from victims of Nazi persecution in Palestine.

In a related development, the government announced that it had paid out some $2.5 million in claims by Holocaust survivors and their heirs — mostly in Israel — whose prewar assets in Britain were seized as “enemy property” and not returned.

Of the 948 claims that were received by the September 1999 deadline, a panel has considered more than 300 of the claims and reached a conclusion on about 160 so far.

Compensation ranged from $800 to $250,000.

Most of the assets involved cash that was deposited for safekeeping in British banks by residents of European countries that fell under Nazi occupation.

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers expressed satisfaction that “such good progress has been made in righting this terrible injustice.”

Announcing the compensation scheme in December 1998, the government apologized for the insensitive manner in which claims had previously been handled.

NEXT STORY