The Claims Conference has initiated and supported a series of interlocking projects providing greater access to and information about Nazi records relating to the looting of cultural valuables. The Claims Conference/WJRO is compiling, imaging, and making accessible the hundreds of thousands of documents of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the largest of the Nazi art and Judaica looting agencies, that have been scattered among a large number of archives throughout the world.
The detail with which the ERR–the special operational task force headed by Adolf Hitler’s ideological henchman Alfred Rosenberg-documented the art, archives, books, and Judaica it plundered has proven essential to recovery efforts.
In October 2010, the Claims Conference, in collaboration with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, launched a website with digitized versions of the Nazi records of more than 20,000 art objects looted from Jews in France and Belgium. The website, “Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume,” is the result of a five-year Claims Conference effort to digitize the ERR records of each looted object that was brought to the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris for processing. The website is searchable by item, owner, art object, and whether items were repatriated and restituted; it shows that approximately half of the items have not been restituted to their original owners or heirs.
Also in 2010, the hundreds of thousands of pages of ERR documents held in Kiev, Ukraine, by the Central State Archive and in Germany, by the Federal Archives were published on the Internet. These are the largest collections of ERR records and detail plunder from numerous countries. They relate to theft of all kinds from Jewish communal and private collections to the collections of the Russian imperial palaces and various state libraries and museums.
In 2011, Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder:A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) was published online. After WWII, original ERR documents were scattered and today are found in 29 repositories in 9 countries. This survey documents the current locations of all ERR records, details their contents, and provides links to online sources.
The survey was funded and assisted by the Claims Conference and published by the International Institute for Social History.
Since the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague in 2009, the Czech Government has established the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), with assistance from the Claims Conference/WJRO. A priority is strengthening international cooperation in provenance research.The Institute is expected to report on activities (or lack thereof) in the 47 countries that endorsed the Terezin Declaration that concluded the 2009 Prague Conference, and presumably country reports drafted to date by the Claims Conference/WJRO will assist with this.
Planning of WJRO approaches to the countries of Eastern Europe and the FSU now includes consideration of looted art and Judaica issues.
In 2009, the Claims Conference/WJRO requested of the Russian government that a full inventory of all displaced Judaica in Russia be compiled. Request was made to open archives on what was restituted to and by the Soviet Union after the war, as well as archives on what was distributed within the Soviet Union. Russia is participating in the ESLI, and further developments along these lines are likely to occur at least partially in the context of the Institute.
Discussions with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia and the Serbian government have ensured that although a deadline for communal cultural property claims expired on September 30, 2008, a blanket claim for all future Jewish communal cultural property filed by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia will be honored.
Agreement has been reached in principle to register internationally all Torah scrolls in Ukraine, both those held by the government and by Jewish communities. In order to gain experience in the matter, it has been decided that registration of Torah scrolls through the Universal Torah Registry should begin with those scrolls belonging to the Jewish community in Kiev.
The Claims Conference/WJRO participated in State Department meetings to review the implementation of the Terezin Declaration provisions on looted art. The State Department favors creating a commission that will not incur the cost of litigation and that preferably can be established through an executive order rather than federal legislation. Museums argue against the need for a commission, believing that most cases involving U.S. museums have either been settled or are without merit. The Claims Conference/WJRO has noted that even if the museums act in good faith, a neutral body is desirable to ensure the “restitution of history” on the facts and the merits, and that such a body must include victim representation.
Work with Associations of Jewish Museums and Libraries
The Claims Conference/WJRO has been working with the Association of European Jewish Museums, the Council of American Jewish Museums, and the Association of Jewish Libraries to ensure that Jewish museums, archives, and libraries fully participate in provenance research and restitution efforts and to ensure that there is proper training for conducting provenance research on Judaica.In 2010 the Claims Conference/WJRO opened discussions with the European Association for Jewish Culture about including provenance information in the pan-European databases now being assembled in Judaica Europeana.