World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder has called on Germany to urgently address the problem of Nazi-looted art and to ensure that artworks in private hands whose provenance is doubtful are to be made public. In a statement on Wednesday Lauder also reacted to an announcement by the Augsburg prosecutor in the case of the Munich art trove, who had announced on Tuesday that he wants to return seized pieces to Cornelius Gurlitt as soon as possible.
Lauder declared: "The conduct of the Augsburg prosecutor has been less than exemplary. After keeping the find secret for nearly two years it now appears that he wants to rid himself of a problem that he has been unable to handle properly for a long time. That is irresponsible. This issue should be dealt with at the highest political level and not be left with a single prosecutor in Augsburg."
The WJC president went on to say: “The discovery of a vast amount of fine art in Munich highlights the fact that a great deal of Nazi-looted art remains to be discovered. Some German museums have attempted to locate looted art in their collections but most are not devoting the resources needed to do this work or giving provenance research the priority it deserves. The principal obstacle to the recovery of Nazi-looted art that is in private hands is the statute of limitations because it prevents judicial inquiry and recovery. The problem should be addressed by the German government because the Holocaust is unique and the statute of limitations was never intended to deal with massive wartime looting perpetrated in the course of genocide," Lauder said.
He lamented the fact that the issue of looted art was not dealt with by Germany after the war and emphasized that statutes of limitation currently in place serve to perpetuate injustice. "Anyone in Germany who possesses artworks whose provenance during the Nazi period is doubtful should therefore be required to make his holdings public and should not be allowed to prevent Holocaust victims and their heirs from seeking judicial redress by asserting a technical defense based on the statute of limitations."
Lauder called on the German government to "create a commission authorized and empowered to examine all public collections for suspected looted art, and to make available information that would enable Holocaust victims, their heirs as well as art historians and researchers, to examine such holdings. The Austrian government has begun this process, at least with respect to national collections. The painful disclosure of continued possession of Nazi-plundered cultural items by museums and in private collections is necessary in order for the German government and Holocaust victims to bring to a close this dark chapter of history.”