Italy Dragging Its Feet on Nazi Loot Restitution

Rome, Italy, 4 January 1944. German soldiers of the Division "Hermann Göring" posing near the main entrance of Palazzo Venezia showing a picture taken from the National Museum of Naples Picture Gallery.
Photo: Meister, via Wikimedia Commons.

Though the Italian government has gone to great lengths to reclaim its own stolen art and antiquities, a new report finds that the country is lagging behind other nations in its efforts to repatriate artwork and other valuables stolen from Jews by the Nazis during World War II, many of which are still missing, writes the New York Times.

Published by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the report compares how the nearly 50 countries who signed 1998’s Washington Principles and the 2009 Terezin Declaration, promising to aid restitution efforts for art that was looted from or sold by force by its Jewish owners, are living up to those agreements.

“It does not appear that provenance research is taking place in Italy, nor is there a legislative background that would allow for the restitution of cultural and religious properties,” says the report. Italian officials have yet to comment on the findings.

Though Italy is particularly called out for its lackluster efforts in light of looting carried out under Mussolini’s dictatorship, Hungary, Poland, Argentina, Spain, and Russia are also criticized by the report, which claims that only about one third of the signatory countries have made significant progress in identifying and restituting stolen work.

In contrast, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands are singled out for their exemplary restitution work, although Germany does get a slap on the wrist for waiting two years to publicize the discovery of Cornelius Gurlitt‘s massive Nazi-era collection. The US and Britain, meanwhile, get passing, but mediocre grades.

To ramp up flagging restitution efforts, the report recommends forming an international association that would “remove the question of provenance research as much as possible from political concerns and to make it simply part of good, ethical, common museum practice.”

“Even the countries that have done more than others have a long way to go,” Claims Conference vice president Greg Schneider told the Times. “We need the countries to recognize this is the right thing to do.”


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