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Blinken announces program to return Nazi-looted art to descendants

The U.S. Secretary of State described the Holocaust as not only a genocide but “one of the largest mass thefts in history.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Feb. 17, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Feb. 17, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via video on Tuesday for the 25th anniversary of the Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated art and best practices event, announcing a new effort by the U.S. State Department to repatriate artworks stolen by Nazi Germany from Jewish families.

Blinken started by thanking the World Jewish Restitution Organization for organizing the program, as well as those in attendance, before stating that “the Holocaust was not only the largest genocide in history. It was one of the largest mass thefts in history.”

He said that “the Nazis seized and exploited Jewish businesses, bank accounts and property, including art and cultural property, as a part of a systematic campaign to physically eradicate all vestiges of Jewish life.”

The Washington Principles began to change the international community’s understanding of artworks stolen by the Nazis, Blinken said. “Over the last 25 years, thousands of works of art, books and cultural objects have been restored to their rightful owners. Several countries established claims commissions. Major auction houses and museums hired full-time staff to examine art that passed through European hands in the run-up to, and during, World War II,” he explained.

Still, Blinken called these efforts “not nearly enough.”

“Today, too many governments, museums, dealers, galleries and individuals still resist restitution efforts … while heirs confront staggering legal and financial barriers as they go up against opponents whose resources vastly outmatch their own,” he said.

Blinken concluded by announcing a new State Department program called Best Practices, which more precisely defines “what is considered Nazi-looted art. They identify solutions when provenance research is lacking.”

“I thank every country that has endorsed the Best Practices,” he said. “And I encourage every government that has not yet endorsed these principles to join us.”

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