The Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) are conducting a comprehensive program toward the restitution of Jewish-owned art and cultural property lost and plundered during the Holocaust.
Restitution efforts in this area have in the past yielded far fewer results than efforts to restitute other assets such as property and financial holdings. The reasons for this lack of progress include the ease of transporting art across international borders, the lack of public records documenting original ownership, the difficulty of tracing art transactions through the decades, and the lack of a central authority to arbitrate claims for artwork.
The Claims Conference and the WJRO have begun to work with relevant Jewish communities and governments around the world to bring increased attention to the restitution of looted movable cultural and religious property. The organizations are focusing on the systemic issues involved in art restitution with the intent of improving and creating processes to enable more owners and heirs to recover their property.
The return of plundered artworks and religious artifacts often has meaning beyond that of the restitution of other types of assets. These were personal possessions valued for their beauty and cultural significance, often handed down through several generations. In many cases, these artworks or artifacts are the last personal link heirs may have to families destroyed in the Holocaust. Many of these artworks have ended up in museums around the world, with no centralized method for families to locate them.
A worldwide intensified effort for the restitution of cultural and religious property looted from Jews will help ensure that families can re-acquire treasures that rightfully belong to them.
Major intergovernmental conferences and resolutions during the past decade established international principles regarding the restitution of art and other cultural property.