BERLIN, April 10 (JTA) Hoping to return art seized during the Nazi era to its rightful owners, the German government this week launched an online catalog of unclaimed items.
At the heart of the Internet site, www.lostart.de, are 2,242 items that have remained unclaimed since the 1940s.
The collection of artwork was dubbed the “Linzer Collection” because many of the items were part of a collection Hitler assembled for a planned museum in his hometown of Linz.
Much of the never-realized museum’s inventory included items seized from Jews and political dissidents after his 1938 law “concerning the expropriation of clerical and Jewish property.” Hitler also bought other items using profits from sales of “Mein Kampf” and portrait photographs of himself.
Cataloged by Allied forces in the 1940s, many of the items were reclaimed during the 1950s. In 1962, the unclaimed items were turned over to the German Finance Ministry.
An estimated 1,000 of those artworks ended up on loan to German museums, where many still sit today.
The Web site will serve as the public arm of the Coordinating Office of the Federal States for the Return of Cultural Property. Founded in 1994, the state-funded organization has built a data bank of approximately 3.5 million seized objects. The site, which is also in English, includes a searchable archive of items that remain unclaimed. The archive includes descriptions of artists and artworks, but does not have pictures.
Those who lost items during the Nazi era also can use the site to register information and request a search for their recovery.
At a news conference marking the Web site’s launch, German Culture Minister Michael Naumann made clear that reviving the effort to return artworks to their rightful owners is one of his priorities.
“A renewed and critical examination of the existing cultural property that was once in the hands of the Third Reich is necessary,” Naumann said.
Naumann apologized to victims of the Third Reich that the process of reclaiming items has been difficult and said he hoped the Web site would make it easier to research this chapter of German history.
Naumann, who is the first German to hold the title of culture minister since the Nazi era, said he is deeply committed to applying the concept of “Wiedergutmachung” literally, “making good again” and the term Germans use to describe reparations for Nazi victims in a cultural context.
He spoke of the urgent need to find ways to return seized items from the former East Germany, which he said was not really able to start the process of returning items until reunification in 1990.
Gerd Harms, minister of culture, education and religious affairs for the state of Saxony-Anhalt, and one of the officials behind the project, echoed Naumann’s sentiment.
He said that when he and his countrymen hear about “cultural goods that were robbed from the Jewish people that came from our states or from other European countries, we know that these things happened more than 50 years ago,” but “because of our historical responsibility we are still dealing with these issues today.”