The Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, introduced a bill to facilitate the restitution of cultural property in the public domain and which has been the subject of dispossession in the context of the anti-Semitic persecutions perpetrated between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945 by Nazi Germany and by the authorities of the territories it occupied, controlled or influenced, in particular the Vichy regime, designated in the law by the consecrated expression «de facto authority calling itself "government of the French State».
« The looting and plundering of Jewish property in Germany, France and throughout occupied Europe, which included cultural property - works of art, paintings, books -, in many cases preceded deportation and extermination, in a double movement of erasure and destruction. These dispossessions were a real struggle for intimate and collective history. Identifying and recovering these cultural properties and returning them to the rights holders of the victims, is today doing a work of justice, but also a work of memory, to allow the descendants of the Jewish families robbed of their history. This framework law will be a decisive step to facilitate and accelerate the acts of justice that represent the restitution of stolen property. And keep alive the humanity of those who have been denied the right to live » says Rima Abdul Malak, Minister of Culture.
This bill will mark a historic step in the long road of reparation begun since 1995 with the speech of the Winter Velodrome delivered by President Jacques Chirac, Recognizing the responsibility of the French State in the deportation of Jews from France during the Second World War. The decree of 10 September 1999 allowed the creation of the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Anti-Semitic Disposals during the Occupation (CIVS), responsible for examining the individual claims made by the victims or their rightful owners, to propose measures of reparation or compensation, and to seek the rights holders. The decree of 1 October 2018 extended the CIVS' remit so that it could seize its own initiative, which gave a new impetus to research on the stolen works and strengthened the public action carried out for their restitution.
In 2019, the Ministry of Culture created within it the Mission of Research and Restitution of Plundered Cultural Property between 1933 and 1945, a specific service responsible for shedding light on cultural property of dubious origin preserved by public institutions, whether it is the so-called MNR (National Museums Recuperation) works, stolen books or works entered into the permanent collections.
These new efforts have led to the Species Law no. 2022 218 of 21 February 2022, which specifically allowed the release from the public domain of 15 works from French public collections, returned to the rights holders of their owners victims of anti-Semitic persecution, including the painting by Gustave Klimt «Roses under trees» preserved by the Musée d'Orsay. Unlike MNR works, the stolen works entered into public collections can only be restored by the adoption of a specific law allowing to derogate from the principle of inalienability of these collections.
The framework bill presented today will facilitate the process of restitution of stolen works in the public domain of the State and local authorities. It creates in the heritage code a derogation from the principle of inalienability limited to the various forms of spoliation linked to anti-Semitic persecution perpetrated during the Nazi period: the public person shall declare the release from the public domain of any cultural property which has been found to have been stolen between the accession to power of Adolf Hitler on 30 January 1933 and the German surrender on 8 May 1945, for the sole purpose of its restitution to its rightful owners. The decision to leave the collections may be taken only after the opinion of a specialized administrative commission, which is responsible for establishing the facts, assessing the existence and circumstances of the plunder and recommending the restitution. This task will naturally be entrusted to the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Dispossession (CIVS).
These new provisions underline the growing commitment of the State and local authorities to shed light on the provenance of the goods in their collections. It is the responsibility of the public owners: the plundered works, which should not have entered the public collections and have been integrated in the ignorance of this plunder, must be subject to restitution to their persecuted owners or to their rightful owners. This political commitment was reaffirmed by the Prime Minister on July 15, 2022, when she recalled, on the occasion of a restitution of stolen property during the Occupation, France’s determination to “render justice”. « As war returns to Europe, as the voices of the last survivors die out, as anti-Semitism still kills, we will tirelessly continue our work of remembrance, peace and transmission. », said Elisabeth Borne.