France ramps up efforts to return stolen WWII Jewish assets

French government launches project to return cultural artifacts stolen from Jews in World War II.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

France
France
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The French government said on Wednesday it had launched a project to return cultural artifacts stolen from Jews in World War II, AFP reported.

The new task force aims to "shed light on cultural assets of dubious origin held by public institutions", stolen between 1933 and 1945, the culture ministry said in a statement.

Around 2,000 artifacts sent from Germany to France after the war are held in French museums under special status as their owners have not been identified.

Their status also means they should never leave the country.

Researchers will work alongside museums, libraries, archives and the Foreign office to "examine cases one by one, whether they are filed by victims' families or uncovered by the investigation", Wednesday’s statement said.

France and Germany signed an agreement last month to improve cooperation on returning seized objects to their rightful owners.

The move comes after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe pledged during last year's commemorations of the Vel d'Hiv round-up of Jews in 1942 that the culture ministry would take "a much more active role in restitution work".

The government wants to ramp up efforts to return stolen works after it returned "several dozen" artifacts "over many years", it said.

It is thought that up to 100,000 works of art, and millions of books, were stolen from French Jews, or Jews who had fled to France before the Nazi occupation began in 1940.

The Allies found around 60,000 of the missing artworks after the war in Germany and returned them to France.

Two-thirds were returned to their original owners by 1950, according to a French government report late last year that criticized French authorities' inefficiency in returning the rest.

In 2017, a French court ordered the return of a painting by impressionist master Camille Pissarro to the family of a Jewish art collector dispossessed during World War II.

In Austria, thousands of artworks stolen by the Nazis have been returned -- including major works worth millions of euros -- since a law was passed in 1998.

In April last year, a New York court ruled that two Nazi-looted drawings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele must be returned to the heirs of an Austrian Holocaust victim.

In 2016, Vienna's famous Leopold Museum settled a long-running feud over five Nazi-plundered drawings by Schiele with the descendants of the works' Jewish former owner.

The museum at the time agreed to return two of the watercolors - including a self-portrait of Schiele - to the New York-based heiress of Viennese art collector Karl Maylaender who was deported from Austria in 1941.

Also in 2016, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra returned a Nazi-looted painting to the heirs of its original Jewish owner.

AFP contributed to this report.




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