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Swiss Website Aims to Help Museums Track Nazi-Looted Art

Looted art
The Monuments Men -- members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit of the U.S. military -- transport paintings from the depot of looted art at Schloss Neuschwanstein near Munich in May 1945. The Swiss government has opened an Internet portal aimed at helping museums and claimants to track Nazi-looted art in Swiss collections. Source: National Archives, Washington/ Swiss Federal Culture Office via Bloomberg

The Swiss government today started a new Internet portal to help claimants, museums and researchers track down art looted by the Nazis that has found its way to Switzerland, an art-market hub before and during World War II.

The new portal offers advice on provenance research, links to relevant databases and archives, and details on museums’ own studies of their collections, the Federal Culture Office said in a statement. It is to be presented at a conference in Bern today, according to the statement.

“There are few international processes, rules or accords to coordinate how we address the problem of looted art,” the Federal Culture Office said. “Expanding provenance research is an important step toward implementing the Washington Principles relating to art confiscated by the Nazis.”

Switzerland is one of 44 countries that endorsed the non-binding Washington Principles on returning Nazi-looted art in public collections in 1998. Under those international guidelines, governments pledged to find “just and fair” solutions for the victims of Nazi plundering and their heirs, and to allocate resources to identify stolen art.

Many Jewish art dealers who fled the Nazis set up shop in Switzerland, becoming conduits for the collections of persecuted art owners still in Germany. Swiss museums, collectors and dealers also acquired works stolen at the “Jew auctions” of confiscated property held by the Nazis.

“There was money, there were collectors, and the Swiss franc was popular as a safe haven,” said Thomas Buomberger, the author of a book about Swiss trade in looted cultural assets during World War II. “Switzerland was a market hub.”

Buomberger said he believes there is still a lot of Nazi plunder in Swiss collections.

“But the art landscape is very fragmented -- there are government museums, the cantons, cities, private foundations and wealthy individual collectors,” he said. “Very few have conducted comprehensive provenance research on their collections.”

The Swiss government portal address is

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Warwick Thompson on London theater, Elin McCoy on wine and Jorg von Uthmann on Paris culture.

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