|Eastern Europe Under Spotlight on Art Restitution Cases|
Visitors view the collection of paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, July 30, 2010. Uncounted works of art which are hanging on museum walls in many cities were once the property of Jews, who were coerced into handing them over by the war time Nazi henchmen, or simply abandoned them as they fled for their lives, but modern times have highlighted provenance issues, with destroyed evidence of ownership and disputed restitution policies in many formerly communist eastern European countries. A tug-of-war in the United States over who owns a huge art trove seized by Hungary's Nazi henchmen is perhaps the most prominent example. AP Photo/Peter Kohalmi.
By: George Jahn, Associated Press Writer
BUDAPEST (AP).- A tug-of-war in the United States over who owns a huge art trove seized by Hungary's Nazi henchmen is the most prominent example of disputed restitution policies in formerly communist eastern Europe but by no means the only one.
Heirs of Jewish banker Baron Mor Lipot Herzog filed suit last week against the Hungarian government in U.S. District Court in Washington. They also are suing several state-owned museums to try to recover the works.
But uncounted other works and collections hanging on museum walls in Bucharest, Belgrade or Budapest also were once the property of Jews, who were coerced into handing them over by Germany's Nazi allies or simply abandoned them as they fled for their lives.
Other examples of the expropriated art are unlikely to be as valuable as the works claimed by the Herzog heirs which includes El Grecos, van Dycks, Velazquez and Monets and is estimated to be worth more than $100 million.
But collectively, the paintings, sculptures and other objets d'art scattered across Russia, the former Soviet bloc and other previously communist European nations may exceed that amount.
Nobody knows because in most cases there are either no reliable records of how the museums came to ownership, or no laws governing restitution. In some cases both are lacking.
A paper presented last year at a Prague conference reviewing the restitution records of dozens of countries endorsing the return of Jewish property found some fault with most European nations on the issue. But it gave the worst grades to Russia, the Soviet Union's former European republics, and those of the now dissolved communist Yugoslavia.
Of the 18 countries in this category, the overview drawn up by the Claims Conference and the World Jewish Restitution Organization found that only the Czech Republic and Slovakia had both enacted restitution laws governing art and were conducting provenance research.
It named Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Ukraine as countries that did not "appear to have made significant progress" in implementing 1998 commitments. Such responsibilities include establishing the origin of suspicious art works, developing legal processes for restoration and proactively seeking out Jewish heirs of such works.
Before the Holocaust, Jews owned property in Europe worth between $10 billion and $15 billion at the time, according to a 2007 study by economist Sidney Zabludoff.
Most was taken and never returned or paid for, translating into a missing $115 billion to $175 billion in current prices, the study said. Initially, many Western European governments paid restitution for only a fraction of the stolen assets, while Eastern European countries in the Soviet bloc paid almost nothing at all, it said.
"There were Jewish people of substance in these various countries who owned art," notes Judah Best, a Washington lawyer and a commissioner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. "They either bargained their art away to escape, or they never escaped."
Part of the reason for the lack of transparency in the East may be decades of scant attention to the region during its time on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
With the international focus on them, Germany and Austria have long enacted and enforced laws regulating returns of art looted by the Nazis. Many other West European nations have followed suit or are in the process of doing so.
But most nations in the former Soviet bloc are lagging.
Restitution was not an issue while communists ruled. The Soviet Union raided Germany and other enemy territory for art troves in the dying days of World War II and thus indirectly looted tremendous amounts of art confiscated by the Nazis from the Jews. To date, there is no record of any such pirated art being directly returned by the Kremlin to Jewish heirs.
In contrast wartime culprits Germany and Austria had no choice but to bow to international pressure for restitution.
Since 1996, when Austria auctioned off unclaimed looted artworks for the benefit of the Jewish community, the nation's museums have handed back about 13,000 objects, according to the overview presented at last year's Prague conference. However, some settlements came only after years of litigation in foreign courts.
Russia enacted legislation in 1998 and in 2000 purporting to allow claims. But it "has returned nothing to Holocaust victims since the passage of the law, although it sold some family items to the Rothschild Family," said Charles A. Goldstein, counsel of the Commission for Art Recovery.
"Compare this to Austria, which is making a systematic search of its state collections and is returning stolen items when they are discovered even without request," he said.
The Hungarian government had a terse response Friday to the suit filed three days earlier in U.S. District Court by the Herzog heirs after more than two decades of legal maneuvering simply noting that a high Hungarian court had ruled in its favor on ownership.
But critics argue that court's decision was flawed and reflects concerted government efforts to hold on to art of questionable provenance.
"The Hungarian experience may be described as a total and concerted effort by successive governments to keep the looted art in their museums," Agnes Peresztegi, European director of the Commission for Art Recovery, said in a 2008 report.
In contrast, she noted, the government is "very active in making claims for art displaced from Hungary during World War II" but loses interest in pursuing such claims when asked to return repatriated art to the heirs of Jewish owners.
"Hungary has never faced its past and has never bothered to establish a historical commission to examine Hungary's war time activities," she argued, alluding to the atrocities committed by Hungary's Nazi henchmen before the Soviets marched in.
Associated Press writers Karel Janicek in Prague and Mark Lavie and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
August 3, 2010
Photographer Steve McCurry Shoots De Niro, Brooklyn, India on Last Kodachrome Roll
From Your Kitchen to Michigan Avenue: Refrigerators and Art Converge
'American Gothic' Public Art Sculpture to Tower Over Other Exhibits at State Fair
SFMOMA Elects New Members to Board of Trustees, Salutes Three Staff Members
Advice on Protecting Fine Art Against High Temperatures
Over Half a Million Visit Record-Breaking 17th Biennale of Sydney
Set Your Place with Picasso Plates at Bonhams' First Ever Editions Sale
Amon Carter Museum Adds 'of American Art' to Its Name
Florence Griswold Museum Announces Major Art Acquisition
Last Carnegie Hall Resident, Elizabeth Sargent, Forced Out of Towers
The Ashmolean Announces Its First Major Exhibition: The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy
Unemployed Book Dealer Gets Jail for Stolen Shakespeare Tome
Poles Hope Deadly Knights will Now Bring Some Good
Transbay Temporary Terminal Set to Open
Quirky Roadside Attraction, Stonehenge II, Moving
Limited Edition Photograph Art of Hollywood Stars Before they Were Legend
Marco Brambilla Commissioned by Kanye West for New Video
Comic Book Buff from Alaska Selling Rare Copy of Batman No. 1
At Meeting in Brasilia, UNESCO Adds More Sites to the World Heritage List
Christie's Announce Landmark Lowry Sale from the Collection of Selwyn Demmy
Eastern Europe Under Spotlight on Art Restitution Cases
Art Fest Champions British Talent in Olympic Shadow
Chicagoland Artists Sought for Major New Competition
Author Neil Gaiman Wins Suit Over Spawn Characters
Holocaust Museum to Romania: Scrap 'Racist' Coin
Most Popular Last Seven Days
1.- New York's Eric Edwards, who owns a $10 million collection, works to open African art museum
2.- Two thousand year old ritual bath found during renovations in private house in Jerusalem
3.- Klimt and the Ringstrasse: A Showcase of Grandeur opens at the Belvedere in Vienna
4.- Sotheby's London unveils masterworks from the collections of Castle Howard
5.- Most comprehensive exhibition on Van Dyck as a portraitist to be shown at the Frick in 2016
6.- Huge new record for masterpiece by Cranach the Elder at Sotheby's sale in London
7.- Spanish treasure from 17th century ship that sank off Florida on sale in New York
8.- Rodin sculpture stolen in $1 million Beverly Hills home invasion recovered after 24 years
9.- Prague-born writer Franz Kafka papers belong to Israel national library: Israeli court
10.- Sotheby's to offer 15th century marriage ring unearthed with metal detector
Eastern Europe Under Spotlight on Art Restitution Cases
Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .
|Royalville Communications, Inc|