German museums must improve their record on identifying and returning Nazi looted art, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said.
Speaking to some 200 people Tuesday at the Topography of Terror, a museum and documentation center in the German capital, Lauder said that a new commission of independent experts must be appointed to comb through public collections across Germany using existing lists of missing art.
In addition, he said, the statute of limitations on wartime looted art must be relaxed. He applauded the state of Bavaria for proposing a change in its own law as “evidence of good faith, which modern Germany has already demonstrated in so many other ways.”
“German museums do not need stolen art to make them great,” Lauder said, adding that, “lost art reflects lost lives.”
According to Julius Schoeps, director of the Moses Mendelssohn Center, Germany has 6,000 museums, only 350 of which have done provenance research on their collections. “The process of returning works should be expedited,” he said.
If works for which there are no heirs are found in museums, they should be auctioned off as was done in Austria, Lauder suggested.
The issue of looted-art issue recently regained prominence with the discovery of about 1,400 works — many of them by artists the Nazis deemed “degenerate” — in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Holocaust-era art collector.
With Jewish groups and restitution organizations demanding action, Germany recently established a task force of domestic and international experts to determine the legal status of most of the Gurlitt collection.
There is also a commission based in Magdeburg whose task it is to help museums match works with heirs.