Art Repatriation and Restitution in World War II:


MFAA member searching a Nazi cache of Torah scrolls.

Repatriation is not a new concept, but is one that may never be as big of an issue as it was following the end of World War II. In the context of this pathfinder, repatriation refers to the returning and/ or restitution of art work that was stolen by Nazi forces during the Second World War. The resources here allow researchers to grasp the efforts made by the Monuments Men to locate and return cultural items to their countries of origin and individual pieces to their rightful owners. Numerous foundations also allow researchers to identify those who might be eligible for restitution and detailed histories of artifacts that have been recovered and their current status.

Website: The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art (

The official website of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation for the Arts. This site gives a very concise overview of the foundations goals of preserving the legacy of the Monuments Men. Included in the site are are well formed categories with bulleted lists detailing the objectives of the foundation. Digital photos, videos, and documents of original documents recovered by the Monuments Men can be found on the website as well.

Book: Muller, Melissa and Monika Tatzkow. Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice. New York : Vendome Press, 2010.

The book chronicles the lives of a few prominent Jewish people during World War II whose art collections were seized by Nazis, and their struggle for restitution.

Website: Commission for Art Recovery (

A website for the Commission for Art Recovery. A rich site that enables anyone to use their resources to aid in finding and returning art stolen by Nazi forces during World War II. The site is easily searched through the top menu bar that allows the user to search by case, projects, resources, or bibliographies.

Website: Project Heart: The Holocaust Era Restitution Taskforce (

A site self-proclaimed to be the Holocaust Restitution Task Force. This site’s purpose is to identify those who are victims of Nazi art theft during World War II and reconnect them with stolen property. This is an international site as it is offered in twenty six languages. The site is set up to answer inquiries as to eligibility for their aid in recovering art and/or restitution.

Databases: Smithsonian: Provenance in the World War II Era 1933-1945 (

This specific page offers articles from a Smithsonian Institution database concerning lost art during World War II. The articles are arranged primarily alphabetically by country with a complete title. Some of the articles are available in other languages than English.

Website: National Archives Holocaust Era Assets (

This page of the National Archives and Records Administration main website consists of a photo gallery of Holocaust-Era Assets microfilms as well as a finding aid dedicated to the looting, location, and recovery of cultural as well as monetary items taken from all over the European Theatre of World War II.

Website: Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the U.S.: (

The website of an organization designed to paint the most complete picture of the art that was stolen by Nazis during World War II. It also attempts to identify those whom the items belonged to by providing a list of links to register to apply as a person deserving of restitution or repatriation.

Archival Papers: Colonel Seymour J. Pomerenze papers from the American Jewish Historical Society

The papers of Colonel Seymour Jacob Pomrenze (1916-2011) contain materials relating to his role as the first director of the Offenbach Archival Depot (OAD) in early 1946, which worked to return confiscated Jewish religious cultural objects to their former owners.


Perspectives on Art Restitution and Repatriation:


A flow chart illustrating the nebulous problem of repatriation of cultural property.

Not everyone is convinced that repatriation is fair, and for that matter, legal. Question of statutes of limitation have been raised since the early 1990s. This section of the pathfinder identifies and offers scholarly opinions on the subject. A common question that is raised is why countries need an item back if they already posses a plethora of that item. These specific case studies listed give the researcher different perspectives of the concept of repatriation.

Journal Article:  Roehrenbeck, Carol A. “Repatriation of Cultural Property–Who Owns the Past? An Introduction to Approaches and to Selected Statutory Instruments.” International Journal of Legal Information 38.2 (2010): 185-200.

This article serves to provide the reader with a background on the topic of cultural repatriation. It gives very specific dates as to when repatriation became a global issue and the organizations that are at the forefront of the discussion.

Editorial: Rosenthal, Sir Norman. “The Time has come for a Statute of Limitations.” The Art Newspaper 197 (11 Dec 2008).

The author of this article, a former museum director, argues that there should be a statute of limitations on stolen cultural items from other countries. Also helpful are the comments at the bottom that propose challenges, with evidence against the author’s claims.

Journal Article: Woodward, Colin. “The War Over Plunder: Who Owns Art Stolen in War?.” MHQ: Quarterly Journal Of Military History 22.4 (2010): 44-48.

Discusses ethical and moral aspects of stolen art and cultural property through history, examples of restitution, and how repatriation eventually occurred.

Journal Article: Goodwin, Paige S. “Mapping the Limits of Repatriable Cultural Heritage: A Case Study of Stolen Flemish Art in French Museums.”University of Pennsylvania Law Review 157.2 (Dec., 2008): 673-705.

A case study of stolen Flemish art in French museums. Also challenges repatriation actions and suggests that there should be limits on what can be returned and after how long. This WorldCat search also reveals other relevant articles about the subject of repatriation.

Art Theft General:

“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and is still missing.

Art theft is not unique to times of war, and can occur at any time from museums, cultural institutions, archaeological sites, and private residences for a variety of reasons. The former head of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman, states that art theft is tolerated “because it is considered a victimless crime.” As the following resources reveal, art theft impacts more than a single owner and is costly both in terms of monetary value and cultural identity :

Book: Houpt, Simon. The Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2006.

This book from the senior media editor of The Globe and Mail newspaper provides a brief overview of art theft- from war time plunder to museum heists, with an emphasis on the modern era. Also discusses recovery efforts and security measures to prevent theft.

Book:  Amore, Anthony and Tom Mashberg. Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

This book discusses art theft specifically in the context of museums. Anthony Amore is the Director of Security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and victim of one of the most notorious unsolved art thefts in the United States.

Book: Wittman, Robert. Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures. New York, Crown Publishers, 2010.

This memoir was written by one of the founders and former director of the FBI Art Crime Team, Robert Wittman, and describes his experiences investigating art theft and attempting to recovery stolen property.

Website: The FBI Art Crime Team (

The FBI Art Crime Team was established in 2004 to investigate art and cultural property crime cases in the United States, and assist Interpol with related crimes committed overseas. The website includes a searchable database of reported art thefts, and a form for victims to report stolen property.

Book: Atwood, Roger. Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.

Journalist and antiquities expert Robert Atwood examines the issue of art theft from the thieves’ perspective. He describes observing Peruvian grave robbers looting an undocumented archaeological site, the demand for such goods by museums and collectors, and the Moche grave goods scandal of 1997 that exposed illicit operations in the global antiquities market.

Related Stories about Art and Theft during World War II:

The Crown of Charlemagne, stolen by the Nazis, was recovered by MFAA man Dr. Walter Horn after the War ended,

The Crown of Charlemagne, stolen by the Nazis, was recovered by MFAA man Dr. Walter Horn after the War ended.

Adolf Hitler was an aspiring painter before forming the National Socialist Party, and once he became the Fuhrer, he used his political power to dictate the aesthetic taste of his party and country through art theft, collaboration with artists, and destruction of works he deemed ‘degenerate.’ The following resources describe the relationship of the Nazis to aesthetic culture.  

Book, Documentary, and Website: Nicholas, Lynn. The Rape of Europa: the Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print.   documentary: The Rape of Europa. dir. Bonnie Cohen. Menemsha Films, 2008. DVD.    website:

Independent researcher Lynn Nicholas’s work predates The Monuments Men by more than a decade and retells the story of the MFAA. However, Nicholas begins her account at the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power and discusses how and why the Nazis stole art, recounts victim’s stories, and documents efforts put forth by other participants in the war to protect and recover cultural property, and the impact of its loss. The documentary retells the story in film with interviews and primary source photographs. While primarily a commercial venture, the accompanying website also provides updates on the recovery and restitution of stolen artworks, a timeline of the war, and many original photographs.

Book:  Kirkpatrick, Sidney. Hitler’s Holy Relics: A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Sidney Kirkpatrick retells the true story of how Hitler stole the Crown Jewels of Charlemagne and the Spear of Destiny (a lance said to have pierced the side of Jesus Christ as he was being crucified) from Austria, his intent to employ them in his quest to create a Fourth Reich, and how a member of the MFAA, Dr. Walter Horn, eventually located the relics after the close of World War II.

Book: Charney, Noah. Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.

Art Historian Noah Charney recounts the theft of the famous Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck (also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb) from Belgium in WWII and numerous other times throughout history, and how it was recovered.

Book: Riding, Alan. And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi Occupied Paris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Former European correspondent for the New York Times, Alan Riding discusses the cultural impact that Nazi occupation had on the citizens and artists of France, from writers, like Jean-Paul Sartre, to painters, such as Pablo Picasso, and ultimately examines the morality of creativity during wartime.

Book: Petropoulos,Jonathan. Art as Politics in the Third Reich. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Historian Jonathan Petropoulos examines Hitler’s aesthetic policy and how art was used to articulate the tenets of Nazi ideology and legitimize his rule. Also discusses the contents of Nazi leaders’ private collections, and how this art reflected the hierarchy of the party.

Book: Petropoulos, Jonathan. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Historian Jonathan Petropoulos discusses why some artists chose to collaborate with the Nazis and the effect that choice had on their careers. Also examines the aesthetic policies of the Third Reich and its subsequent impact on art produced during Hitler’s reign.