Government to renew law enabling return of Nazi-looted art - Museums Association

Government to renew law enabling return of Nazi-looted art

UK plans to renew Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009
Jonathan Knott
The UK government has announced that it will seek to extend the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act, which gives national museums powers to return works of art found to be looted during the Third Reich.

The 2009 act gave 17 national institutions, including the British Museum and the National Gallery, the power to return items in their collections stolen during the Nazi era to their original owners or their heirs. Before it came into force, the governing rules of national museums prevented them from disposing of these items.

The act expires on 11 November 2019. The government will seek to renew the powers indefinitely.

At the same time, the government announced an international spoliation conference at the National Gallery in London on 12 September, where it is expected to call for stronger efforts to return Nazi-looted artworks to their original owners.

John Glen, the minister for arts, heritage and tourism said: “More than 70 years after the end of the second world war, some families are still waiting for their cultural property to be returned. We want countries from across the continent to help right this historic wrong.

“Our plans to renew the Holocaust Act underline our commitment to building a fairer society and we will do everything in our power to return Nazi-looted art to its rightful owners.”

He added: “I hope this conference will raise awareness of this important issue and help to reunite people with their precious heirlooms.”

It is estimated that 20% of Europe’s cultural treasures were stolen or plundered by Nazi Germany, most notably from Jewish families. More than 100,000 of these works are still lost, presumed to be in private and public collections.

Many museums have undertaken detailed research of their collections to identify objects with uncertain provenance between the years 1933-1945. This research is held in an online database, covering the whole of the UK. The database is maintained by editors from the 47 contributing museums, coordinated by the Collections Trust on behalf of Arts Council England.

‘70 Years and Counting: Europe’s final opportunity?’ will be held on 12 September 2017 at the National Gallery, London. The conference is organised by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Spoliation Advisory Panel and is sponsored by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe. To register an interest in attending the event email

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