Many Works of Art Stolen by the Nazis from Dutch Jews Have Yet to Be Returned to the Owners’ Heirs

October 2, 2017 | Avraham Roet
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While Germany and many other countries have made progress in restoring goods seized during World War II to their rightful owners, the Netherlands still holds a mass of paintings that once belonged to Jews, as Avraham Roet writes. (Free registration required.)

Much of the art confiscated from Jews during the German occupation can still be found in warehouses belonging to the Dutch state, or in museums around the country. Because Dutch authorities have been remiss in preserving archives and documentation, however, it’s not possible to make an accurate appraisal of the value of the plundered art. . . .

Though the war ended more than seven decades ago, the scale of the thefts from Jews by both the Germans and Dutch people themselves—not only during World War II but afterward as well—is still coming to light. Following the German conquest of the Netherlands, on May 10, 1940, Adolf Hitler and his deputy Hermann Goering began taking an intense personal interest in the acquisition of art, in particular paintings by Old Masters. Hitler intended to establish—in Linz, Austria, near the village where he was born—the world’s largest museum of classical art and objects. To that end, he ordered the confiscation of art in every country occupied by the Third Reich. At the same time, Goering began stealing obsessively for his own private collection, often competing with Hitler for the same items. . . .

The Allies, aware of the art-looting phenomenon, decided, as early as 1942-1943, that all plundered property would be returned after the war to its country of origin, without compensation being made to the then-current owner. . . . In 1945, the Netherlands government set up the Netherlands Art Property Foundation (SNK). . . . Anyone who knew of artworks owned by his or her family that had been stolen could fill out an SNK form requesting their return. Tens of thousands of requests poured in. . . . A substantial number of SNK applicants indeed took their property back, but that still left tens of thousands of items in the hands of Dutch state authorities after their repatriation from Germany.

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