Although a number of countries have compiled lists of cultural losses, there has been no large-scale attempt to determine the full scope of cultural property seized by the specific agencies of the Nazis and their allies that has not been restituted. Instead, the focus has been on checking the provenance of museum collections and on claims made by individual survivors and heirs of owners. But more often than not families and communities do not have full knowledge of what was taken from them. Art dealers, major collectors, and institutions may have kept lists of artworks or catalogs of libraries and archives prior to World War II, but often such lists and catalogs – like their owners – did not survive the Holocaust, and in any event, the vast majority of the millions of persons who were robbed had no such lists or catalogs. The Claims Conference/WJRO has therefore decided to try to reconstruct the historical-archival record so as 1) to develop listings of what was plundered by the Nazis and their allies; 2) to assemble listings of cultural property known to have been restituted; and thereby 3) to produce net listings of outstanding items of cultural property that have yet to be returned.
In some respects these activities taken as a whole may constitute a paradigm shift for the field. Instead of looking at collections in museums today, at lists of objects being sought by claimants, or at lists of objects found after World War II, the aim is to reconstruct the original record of what was seized and from whom by bringing together what remains of the detailed records that the Nazis kept of their looting.