July 25, 2006

US museums urged to do more to find Nazi-looted art

By Torrye Jones

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Many U.S. art museums have not done
enough to determine whether they hold art looted from Holocaust
victims, a Jewish advocacy group said on Tuesday.

The group published a survey showing that while many
museums had done much to establish whether their collections
included "covered objects" -- works that might have been stolen
by the Nazis -- others had considerable work still to do.

"The average age of Holocaust survivors is over 80," said
Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Jewish Material
Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, a non-profit
group created in 1951 to advocate for Holocaust survivors and
heirs of victims.

"The generation is slipping away and with them will go the
memories and the recollections that will enable survivors and
their families to reconnect with their heritage and past,"
Taylor said.

The Claims Conference will present its findings at a U.S.
Congressional committee hearing on Thursday.

Most museums cite legal issues, the lack of public records
documenting ownership and the scarcity of information on
artwork as reasons for lack of progress in restitution.

The survey by the Claims Conference and the World Jewish
Restitution Organization sought to determine progress made by
museums in meeting international obligations that the U.S.
government endorsed seven years ago.

Of 214 museums which responded to the survey, 114 stated
that they actively did provenance research. The remaining
museums did not say whether they conducted research or did not
provide enough information to determine if they did.

The museums that responded had more than 140,000 "covered
objects" that need provenance research, Taylor said.

"Information and openness are critical if we are to have
any opportunity to correct this historic loss," he told a news
conference in New York.

Before and during World War II the Nazis methodically
looted Jewish-owned art and other valuable property.

Gideon said the provenance research must be done quickly or
"the possibility of winning the small symbolic measure of
justice will be gone."