News & Politics

Thousands of Art Works Stolen from Dutch Jews by Nazis Still Not Returned to Owners' Heirs

FBI agents unwrap "Young Man As Bacchus" by Jan Franse Verzijl before before the start of a ceremony to formally return the painting to representatives of the Max and Iris Stern Foundation, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Federal investigators recovered the 1630 oil painting in a 2015 art fair. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

I cry for my country:

Much of the art confiscated from Jews during the German occupation can still be found in warehouses belonging to the Dutch state, or in museums around the country. Because Dutch authorities have been remiss in preserving archives and documentation, however, it’s not possible to make an accurate appraisal of the value of the plundered art. . . .

The Second World War ended more than seven decades ago, but even those 72 years weren’t enough for the Dutch government to make sure that these works of art were returned to their rightful owners. Yes, after the war, the government set up a “Netherlands Art Property Foundation,” whose express purpose  was to enable Jews whose art works was stolen by the Nazis (or Dutch collaborators) to fill out a form requesting their return. But that didn’t suffice. Now, 72 years after the war ended, there are still “tens of thousands of items in the hands of Dutch state authorities after their repatriation from Germany.”

You read that right: the allied forces (read: the U.S.) made sure that stolen art was returned to the country of origin. In the case of the Netherlands, however, that “country of origin” did darn little to make sure that the owners of the art works or their heirs were identified and found.

Why didn’t the Dutch government make this a priority? Well, I’m sure that their financial worth has nothing to do with it. Right?

Right?!

Hilariously, the Dutch government defends itself (link in Dutch) by arguing that it’s just so darn hard to identify the rightful owners and then actually find them.

Well yes, I bet it is. Most of the original owners were murdered by the Nazis, who were, all too often, working with Dutch collaborators to find Jews and send them to death camps. So yeah. It must be difficult to find them or their heirs.

But it’s even harder for a Dutchman with a conscience to accept that the government does little to nothing to fix this. I don’t care how difficult it is; it can be done… and so it should be done. There can be no excuses, no “ifs” and “buts.” This should have been dealt with decades ago. It’s a bloody shame that we’re still talking about it today.