Sir Norman Rosenthal, formerly of the Royal Academy in London, has been the rare vocal opponent of restitution. His objections recognize that many of the families receiving the restituted art were very far removed from the experience of ownership and that the works are being wrested from cultural institutions that have proved good stewards. Rosenthal’s remarks have appeared in publications in the UK and recently in Germany which prompted this response from the German government, according to Bloomberg:
“An end to the restitution of cultural goods lost through Nazi persecution is out of the question for the German government,” Neumann said in an e-mailed statement today. “We will continue to push for the identification of looted art in public collections and to reach a settlement with the rightful owner or the heirs.”
The Nazis looted at least 650,000 artworks from private collectors, the New York-based Jewish Claims Conference estimates. Germany is one of 44 nations that agreed to the 1998 Washington principles on Holocaust-era assets. Under that non-binding accord, governments agreed to achieve a “just and fair” solution with the prewar owners of art seized by the Nazis.
“The German government stands by its historical and moral responsibility,” Neumann said. “It would be unacceptable if, despite improved knowledge, we were to perpetuate the injustices already suffered by deciding against restitution.”