Thursday, March 3, 2016

Switzerland: Museums under pressure over art that Jews were forced to sell

Via The Art Newspaper:
Pressure is growing on Swiss museums to accept that works of art sold by Jewish refugees to help them escape from the Nazis were forced sales, and that the works should therefore be returned to their heirs. Speaking in Zurich last month, Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, proposed a plan of action, which he described as “long overdue”.

Lauder said he had turned his attention to Switzerland after Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed his entire collection—some of which had been looted from Jews by the Nazis—to the Bern Kunstmuseum. The museum has said it will refuse to accept any Gurlitt works with tainted or unclear provenance, and that they will remain in Germany for further research.

Whereas the German government has pledged to return any art in Gurlitt’s hoard that had been “lost due to Nazi persecution”, Swiss museums have traditionally rejected claims for what they term fluchtgut (flight assets)—art sold by Jewish refugees to fund their escape or to start new lives after losing the rest of their possessions, their homes and their livelihoods under the Nazis.

One of Lauder’s demands was that Switzerland treat fluchtgut claims in the same way as claims for looted art. “Could it possibly make any difference if the painting was taken off the wall by a Nazi or if its Jewish owner was forced to sell that same painting to one of Hitler’s art dealers for almost nothing?” he asked in his speech at Zurich’s Kunsthaus on 2 February.
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