France launched a search for the Jewish owners of about 2,000 pieces of Nazi-plundered art, from Monets and Rubens to Renoirs, that hang in museums such as the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
Almost 70 years after World War II, France is making one of its biggest efforts to trace the Jewish owners of artworks stolen by the Nazis, recovered by the Allies and sent to the country after the war. President Francois Hollande’s government is setting up a group of historians, regulators, archivists and curators to actively track down families, instead of waiting for claimants to come forward. The group starts working in March.
“It may be one of our last chances to find the owners,” said Jean-Pierre Bady, a former director at the culture ministry, who’s a member of a 1999-created Commission for the Compensation of Spoliation Victims and who was instrumental in the formation of the group. “Seventy years is a long time, but it’s never too late to make things right.”
The Nazis seized hundreds of thousands of works of art from Jewish private collections between 1933 and 1945 as part of their policy of racial persecution in what has been seen as the biggest such heist in history. Much of the art was returned to national governments, with unclaimed pieces landing in museums.
In France, the Hollande government’s plan would mark the first effort to reach out to victims of the Nazis since 1995 when former President Jacques Chirac for the first time recognized France’s responsibility for collaborating in anti- Semitic persecutions during the country’s occupation by the Germans, acknowledging the deportation of Jewish people.
The new push follows a French Senate report last month that called on the government to be more proactive and transparent.
The report also calls for the government to make the archives on looted art at the foreign ministry and the Louvre museum more accessible, including the scanning of thousands of relevant documents still sitting in cartons.