International Archive Established in World’s First Nazi Plunder Catalogue
The National Archives and the Commission for Looted Art in Europe has signed a global agreement on 4 May in Washington DC with leading national archives and museums, to provide an international online catalogue of documentation on looted cultural artefacts to aid historians, researchers and families to trace the history and provenance of objects taken by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945.
The project is designed to extend public access to all records related to looted cultural artefacts by cataloguing and digitising the archival materials and making them available through a single international research web portal hosted by the US National Archives and Records Administration.
Signing the global agreement on behalf of The National Archives, Oliver Morley, Chief Executive and Keeper said: “It’s a privilege to be involved in this unique global collaboration – working together with leading archives throughout the world to make these records more accessible on an international scale. By digitising and linking archival records online, researchers will be able to piece together the stories of what became of cultural objects, be they books, paintings, sculpture, jewellery or any other stolen artefacts from evidence fragmented across borders and languages.”
Signing the global agreement on behalf of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, Anne Webber, Co-Chair, said: “We are very pleased to be part of this extremely important project which will help researchers and families in identifying, documenting and recovering looted cultural property. For the first time in searching for the many thousands of still missing objects it will be possible to trace their fate online through these records which provide the names of victims, perpetrators, artists and works of art. The records and history they represent have never been made internationally available before and this project represents a major step forward in international cooperation to help resolve these long outstanding issues.”
The records encompass different aspects of the organisation of the Nazi plundering, the methods of disposal of the looted artworks and the efforts to identify, recover and restitute them made by governments and other agencies during and after the Second World War.
Created through collaboration between national archives and expert organisations in Belgium, France, Germany, Ukraine, the UK and USA, the project will enable families to research their losses, provenance researchers to locate important documentation, and historians to study newly accessible materials on the history of this period.
The official signing of the agreement comes ahead of a two day international conference on provenance research held at The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington DC.
Each member organisation has identified key groups of relevant records among its holdings. The National Archives has worked in partnership with the Commission for Looted Art in Europe to catalogue and digitise over 950 files from its collection. The Commission provided the expert knowledge and selected, described and provided the written introduction to the records. The National Archives has digitised the selected records and is hosting and delivering both the textual descriptions and new colour images of the records themselves through its website.
The records, dating from 1939 to 1961, range from seizure orders, inventories and images of looted works of art, field reports and claim forms for seized property to interrogation reports of art dealers and reports of the transfer of looted artworks to neutral countries. All the original British government files have been newly scanned in colour and will be searchable by name, place, subject and date thanks to detailed descriptions which will make searching these records more straightforward, user-friendly and productive.
The files document the systematic looting of Jewish households by Nazi agencies, Hitler’s plans to establish a Führermuseum with the seized art in his hometown of Linz and the role played by art dealers in securing and trading looted artworks in Nazi-occupied Europe and beyond.
Highlights from the files identified by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe include:
· Hitler’s plans to establish a Führermuseum with the seized art in his hometown of Linz (T209/29)
· A collection of photographs of artworks which were looted by the Nazis from Italian and French public and private collections and retrieved by the Allies in 1945 (T 209/31);
· The summer 1945 interrogation reports of prominent art dealers involved in the seizure and trading of looted artworks (T 209/29)
· Details of repositories of looted cultural property discovered as the Allies advanced into Europe over the spring and summer of 1945, including the Alt Aussee salt mines in Austria, containing over 6,000 paintings destined for the Linz museum, and the Alto Adige repositories in Italy, containing the works of art from the Florence public galleries removed in July 1944 (T 209/27);
· Records of the Macmillan Committee (1944-1946), a specialist advisory body to the British government established to support the post-war restitution process (T 209/1-39);
· Reports of the work of the Inter-Allied Vaucher Commission (1944-1945) which, acting on information supplied by different national commissions, operated as a central bureau in London for information on looted objects (T209/5)
· Looted works of art transferred to Switzerland and efforts to persuade the Swiss government to prevent the concealment of looted works of art found on Swiss territory (T 209/25)