Does the State of Israel need to consider again the responsibility it has for the creations belonged to Holocaust victims? Is it right to favor the national value of these creations over the right for private property?
What was the fate of art pieces that belonged to Holocaust victims and what is more important – national value or right for property?
In 2014, several art pieces have been waiting in Israeli museums for decisions to be made by the company which locates and returns assets of Holocaust victims. The museums managers were asked to cooperate in the locating process of pieces that belong to Holocaust victims, with goal being returning them to their rightful owners as moral duty and not just economic-financial one.
The process began in 2006 with the founding of the company aiming to locate and return Holocaust assets by the state how initiated the founding as a result from the Holocaust Victims Assets Law. The company received the authority to manage financial assets files and real estate assets files with the aim of returning them to their rightful owners, Holocaust victims and their families. Some of the assets indeed were returned to their homes, but some are standing still with no demand due to lacking information.
Only this year the company’s activity had begun to gain momentum in the art field, and the question the needs to be asked at the moment is: how many such art pieces, with unknown past and legal owners, are waiting in the museums? And what about all those pieces that were sold to naïve buyers who don’t know that they have art pieces that used to belong to Holocaust victims?
What is “origins study”?
The procedure through which the mentioned company decided to adopt is named “origins study”, and it aims to encourage museums in Israel to examine the history of every piece existed in them in order to identify its origins, locate pieces that belong to Holocaust victims and return them to their rightful owners. This is an unprecedented action in Israel.
A fly in the ointment – how a “sacred” piece should be treated?
The examination regarding the rightful owners of a piece begins with locating art pieces that were created before the Second World War and arrived from abroad. When there is not enough information about the piece’s history (who it was sold to, how it was transferred etc.), an option is investigates that the owners might be Jewish collectors or artists that were force to sell or give their pieces under the threat of the Nazis. A crossing between historic details and information regarding auctions, archives lists and more, allows locating the legal piece owners. This is a long and complex process that is not always fruitful.
Further examination of this subject raises another issue:
When this chain of actions does happen to be fruitful, the legal heritors heirs sometime choose to take the piece out of the museum and put it in auction. This may lead to a situation in which the piece is sold to a person that is not emotionally connection to the piece’s value and don’t appreciate its origin.
Who are we to determine the fate of a piece that is sold by its legal owner, the victim’s family? On the other hand, does it make sense that a piece which belonged to a person who died in the Holocaust will be hanged in the living room of some Sheikh or god forbid will be in the possession of someone of is anti-Israel?
Is this a moral national issue? Does the state of Israel need to consider again the responsibility it has for the creations belonged to Holocaust victims? Is it right to favor the national value of these creations over the right for private property?
Maybe first, we should promote the process and return the pieces to those who were horrifically wronged, and then address these philosophical questions, or not. Something to think about.