Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Brits Can't Return Nazi Loot

When it comes to deaccessioning---British museums, by law, can't. That helps bolster the British Museum's argument that it can't ship the Parthenon marbles back to Greece. But it also prevents the return of Nazi-expropriated works to their rightful owners or heirs.

Recently, heirs of Nazi victim Arthur Feldmann contented themselves with a $329,000 payout from the government, in lieu of return of four old master drawings, now in the British Museum, that were seized by the Nazis before they killed him.

But what if another victim or heir wanted the works, not the cash?

A court decision, almost a year ago, indicated that the British Museum trustees can not "meet such moral claims [like the Feldmann heirs'] under existing law:

It is now beyond doubt that, when there is a claim for an object in the British Museum collection which can be proved to have been stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis, the object cannot be returned without the authority of an Act of Parliament.

This renders partly ineffectual the work that the museum has done to compile a list of works with uncertain World War II provenance.

However, talks are in progress to introduce legislation "to help put right these historic wrongs," according to culture minister David Lammy, quoted recently by BBC News.

What took so long? Could it be that such legislation might open the door to other "moral claims"---from source countries of antiquities, for example?

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