Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Could Israeli Museums House Nazi Looted Art?

Hashava, the Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victim's Assets, met with the Israel Museum, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Ein Herod Museum, and the Ghetto Fighter's House Museum, last Thursday (January 9, 2014) to discuss locating the rightful owners of artworks looted by the Nazis in the years preceding World War II (WWII).

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Israeli Museums might actually house some Nazi looted art (JTA 2014).  This is possible because after WWII, allied forces sent looted art work found in German museums and storage (JTA 2014).  There are claims that these museums took no action in the past to locate the owners, a claim that the Israel Museum strongly denies (Aderet 2014).  According to an Israeli law passed in 2005, if a museum or organization cannot locate the original owners, then the proceeds from the sale of the artwork must be used to assist Holocaust survivors living in poverty or fund Holocaust education projects (JTA 2014).

Not only does the Israel Museum deny claims from Hashava that they did not make an attempt to reach out to the original owners, but they have had success in returning some pieces of art.  The museum received around 1200 pieces of Nazi looted art, and out of those 1200, they have successfully returned 10 works to the original owners (Richman 2014).  The Israel Museum director, James Synder described the importance for the museum to return looted art to its owner, stating that "[t]he Israel Museum, because we're in Israel, we feel that we need to be exemplary in the subject of restitution of art lost in World War II" (Richman 2014).

I mirror Synder's thoughts.  I believe that museums should try to set positive examples, and because the Israel Museum is located in Israel, the spotlight is on that institution, especially when it comes to the repatriation of art.  I believe that museums that have strong public images should set ethical examples when it comes to their collections, which is why I was so disappointed with MoMA not taking an ethical stance.  In the case of Israel, the government created a law out of the ethical responsibility to help those who have suffered during the Holocaust, and to not allow their memories fade away.


Aderat, O. (2014, January 9). Israel Museum rejects claims it neglected to return Nazi looted art to owners. Retrieved from Haaretz: http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.567843

JTA. (2014, January 9). Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved from Israeli museums may own Nazi-looted art, group says: http://www.jta.org/2014/01/09/news-opinion/israel-middle-east/israeli-museums-may-own-nazi-looted-art-group-says

Newman, M. (2014, January 8). Jewish Times. Retrieved from Group to search for Nazi-looted artwork in Israel: http://www.timesofisrael.com/group-to-search-for-nazi-looted-artwork-in-israel/

Richman, M. (2014, January 10). Voice of America. Retrieved from Israeli Organization Searches for Art Looted by Nazis : http://www.voanews.com/content/israeli-organization-searches-for-art-looted-by-nazis/1827660.html