The search for looted art - and its owners

In April this year, the Foundation for Holocaust Victims announced that it concluded a compensation programme for Holocaust victims; it had distributed over 4 million dollars put in by the Czech state among some 500 claimants from 27 countries. However, an important chapter still remained to be addressed regarding the mitigation of property injustices caused to Holocaust victims - the return of confiscated art objects. The deadline for claims was originally set for the end of this year. But thanks to an amendment to the law, which has been approved by both houses of the Czech Parliament, Holocaust survivors and their families may now be able to claim art objects stolen from them over 60 years ago even after January 1. Radio Prague's Pavla Horakova reports:

Tomas Kraus of the Federation of Jewish Communities in CR
A law first adopted in the year 2000 on the possibility to claim art objects confiscated during WWII stipulated December 31, 2006 as a deadline for claims. As not all eligible claimants live in the Czech Republic and know about the possibility to claim their property, the Jewish community had been calling for an indefinite possibility to claim or at least a postponement of the deadline by five years.

According to Tomas Kraus of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, only a fraction of the stolen works of art has been returned. He says that in cooperation with experts from the Institute of Modern History of the Czech Academy of Sciences a multitude of objects have been discovered scattered around the Czech Republic.

"This institute did a wonderful job of discovering an enormous bulk of archival materials about confiscation and art objects. Together with the Ministry of Culture we have been able to put up on the internet a list of art objects which are still today in Czech institutions, in museums and galleries. We have about 700,000 objects listed. So we think that the work has to be continued and we should give the institute and the possible claimants themselves a chance to go on."

Many looted objects are also known to be abroad and Tomas Kraus says a possible return would involve negotiations on the highest level.

"There are some objects which were looted by the Red Army, so we know about some objects which are currently in Moscow, in some depositories of some institutions, which is also a subject of further negotiations between the Czech Republic and Russia. We know about some other objects which are around the world. This process is a little complicated because, first the Czech Republic has to claim it and then if we find the possible individual previous owners, maybe we would be able to place a request for a process of return. But, of course, it needs quite a series of negotiations. I am personally convinced that it is feasible, it is possible but someone has to start with that."

The amendment abolishing the deadline for claims for the return of art objects confiscated from Jewish owners during the Nazi occupation has yet to be signed by the President.