LONDON, UK.- A rare manuscript, part of the collection of The British Library, was most probably looted during the Nazi era and must be returned to its rightful owner, an independent panel ruled today.
The panel's ruling has been endorsed by the Government, and accepted by the British Library.
The manuscript – a Missal and calendar written in 'Beneventan' script, known as Benevento VI 29 or Egerton 3511 - was looted from the Metropolitan Chapter of the Cathedral City of Benevento between 1943 and 1944, and was acquired by the British Museum in 1947. It was then transferred with the British Museum Library's collections to the British Library on its foundation in 1973.
The Spoliation Advisory Panel has recommended to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell that legislation should be introduced to permit restitution of objects such as this one, which were spoliated during the Nazi era. In the meantime, the British Library should return the missal to Benevento as soon as possible on loan, the panel have said.
Arts Minister Estelle Morris said: "It is important that questions of ownership arising from the terrible events of the Second World War Nazi era are resolved. I believe that the Panel's recommendation is the most appropriate way to proceed. I congratulate them on their very thorough examination of the claim and I am grateful to the British Library for its full co-operation with the Panel and its prompt acceptance of the Panel's recommendations."
"This Government is committed to the declaration from the Washington Conference on Holocaust Era Assets in December 1998 and at the London Conference on Nazi Gold in December 1987, both of which addressed the issue of looted works of art."
"I know that the British public would be unhappy to know that a cultural institution in this country contained a work which had been identified as being wrongfully separated from its rightful owners during this period, and nothing had been done to right that wrong. I shall now also be considering the recommendation to introduce legislation to permit restitution of objects in this particular category."
"We can all take pride that the UK has a proud record in fighting fascism and offering assistance to those people who fled from the horrors of Nazi Germany during the Second World War."
British Library Chief Executive Lynne Brindley said: "The British Library accepts the Spoliation Advisory Panel's conclusions, and I commit the Library to engage in constructive discussion with the other parties on the terms and conditions of a loan of the Missal to the Chapter Library in Benevento. The Library has, as required by statute, exercised careful stewardship of the manuscript for nearly sixty years and it has been studied here by distinguished scholars. Thus the Library will be seeking to ensure that the loan meets rigorous conditions which will guarantee that appropriate levels of stewardship and scholarly access will be maintained".