“It is a supreme duty of the State of Israel, its daughters and its sons, to do everything possible in order to fulfill the unwritten last will and testament of the victims of the Holocaust – and to restitute their property which remained in the Land of Israel, which became the State of Israel – to their heirs.”
The Honorable Judge Dr. Yigal Marzel, in Originating Motion (Jerusalem) 11619-05-10 The Company for Location and Restitution of Holocaust Victims’ Assets Ltd. v. Palestine Plantations Ltd.
27.01.21 – This International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, 2021, was the book launch of the Institute of Art and Law’s “Museums and the Holocaust” (2nd Ed.). Hashava took part in contributing to this book of the chapter on Israel.
12.11.20 – We have submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to stop the sale of important treasures from the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art
The Hashava Foundation was established with the goal of promoting a comprehensive framework of legislation and regulation for the administration of cultural property in Israel. Among other measures, the Foundation aims to ensure that Israel’s laws are in accord with international treaties and declarations, including those to which Israel is a party, with an emphasis on those that promote the transparent, regulated and supervised administration of museums and other institutions, auction houses and other actors in the field. These goals spring from a recognition that cultural property is distinct from other types of property as its value is not only material, but also sentimental, historic, moral, symbolic and patrimonial. Whether cultural property is held privately or by institutions, the public interest in ensuring that it is held by the most legitimate party, and, if looted, returned to its rightful owner, must be protected, even while balancing the values of legitimate use, public access, and conservation.
The Foundation’s primary focus is in regulating the mechanisms for identifying and locating artwork and Judaica looted from their owners during the Nazi period, and promoting restitution to their heirs. The Foundation seeks to accomplish its goals, which are of unparalleled importance for achieving justice for the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs, by focusing on promoting public awareness, legislative and regulatory reform, as well as undertaking specific projects to facilitate restitution in practice.
The Foundation aims to facilitate the training and employment of provenance researchers and to promote the adoption of best-practice standards for institutions regarding works of art whose origin is suspicious, as well as mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts between the holders of looted art, whether institutional or private, and their rightful owners.
Today, decades after the Holocaust, museums in Israel hold hundreds, if not thousands, of items of artwork and Judaica, which were looted from their owners during the Holocaust, without their having made a proper effort to investigate to whom they belong, and without the investment of sufficient budgetary resources for this purpose. Frequently, these items were of great importance to their owners, whether their value was sentimental, cultural, or monetary, and in many cases they were handed down from generation to generation as part of a family’s heritage.
Furthermore, even when a museum or other holder of a plundered artwork receives a claim from a Holocaust survivor asserting ownership, there is no established process regulating the manner in which the museum or holder must adjudicate such claim. As part of its vision, the Foundation will act to promote the establishment of an independent claims tribunal that will be sanctioned to adjudicate restitution claims brought by Holocaust victims’ heirs.
During World War II, the Nazis engaged in the cultural plunder of Jews in Europe on an industrial scale, including artworks, Judaica, books and manuscripts.
This process of looting cultural property was a planned and systematic operation, which according to estimates by international experts, totaled over half-a-million looted paintings, in addition to hundreds-of-thousands of books and items of Judaica.
Following the end of WWII, a special force established by the Allies operated to concentrate and sort all of the looted cultural properties, with the goal of returning them to their rightful owners.
Most of the items were returned to their countries of origin, while a small quantity was turned over to Jewish organizations – the JCR and the JRSO – which transferred approximately half of the received property to Israel, and the remainder to the United States and to surviving Jewish communities throughout Europe.
Concurrently, a large quantity of cultural property, looted from its Jewish owners during WWII, arrived in Israel in a variety of ways and was sold in the private market as well as to museums throughout the country. Some of these items were of extremely high value, whether monetary or sentimental.
The infrequent cases of restitution that have occurred, have been, regretfully, few and far between.
“The State of Israel is supposed to provide an example and to lead in the treatment of property restitution, whether through the “Hashava” Company, or whether through the relevant governmental institutions. It is incumbent on the relevant parties to cooperate and to expedite the treatment of Holocaust victims’ property, so that the historical justice to which the State of Israel aspires will be done and will be seen.”
(From the Report of the State Comptroller, Annual Report 67a)
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