More Than 10,000 Unrestituted Nazi-looted Art Objects Now Listed on Internet

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October 18, 2010

More Than 10,000 Unrestituted Nazi-looted Art Objects Now Listed on Internet

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This painting by Matisse was looted by the Nazis and appears on the website http://www.errproject.org/

The Nazi records and photographs of the looting of more than 20,000 individual art objects from Jews in France and Belgium are now online in a searchable database, which shows that at least half the objects have not been restituted to their original owners. This new listing – searchable by item, artist, owner, and whether items have been returned – should be consulted by museums, art dealers, and auction houses to determine whether they hold any Nazi-looted art, and by families seeking long-lost valuable heirlooms.

Many families know or believe that relatives killed in the Holocaust owned artworks, but may not know the pieces’ names or artists; this list can help them search family holdings. However, there is no centralized claims process for unrestituted works in this database.  Unlike previous attempts to identify looted art, which have focused on museum collections or lists of claims from individual victims or their heirs, this new database aims to reconstruct the totality of what was seized and from whom, as well as what has been restituted, so as to produce a listing of looted art objects still believed to be “at large.”

“Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume,” at www.errproject.org/jeudepaume, is a project of the Claims Conference with technical support provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It reveals the fate of each of more than 20,000 art objects taken from more than 200 private Jewish collections in German-occupied France and Belgium between 1940 and 1944.

The Third Reich engaged in an unprecedented, systematic campaign to plunder the cultural property of Europe’s Jews through theft, confiscation, and forced sales. A special task force, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), gathered hundreds of thousands of art objects and millions of books and archives stolen from Jews and other victims, as well as from museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions. The ERR worked in Nazi-occupied territories, with branches stretching from Paris eastward to Gorky, Russia.

In Paris, the ERR documented each of more than 20,000 art objects on index cards or inventory lists, processing and sorting the looted objects at the Jeu de Paume, then dispatching them to repositories in Germany and Austria.  The database presents each of these records in electronic form, listing index card numbers, artwork titles, artists, and detailed descriptions of each work. Many entries include photos of the artworks or objects as well as a scan of the original Nazi record. The database can be searched by owner, artist, or collection, or a combination of criteria.

The database brings together the original ERR records that had been scattered after the war relating to the looted art processed at the Jeu de Paume. The records and historical data in the database had been dispersed among three major repositories–the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States, the Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) of Germany, and the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE) of France.