by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief
The Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation is opening its annual conference in Washington DC on Thursday, “From Plunder to Preservation: The Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific.” Here are links to information about the conference and its program. Here’s a link to the conference program: Panels include The Destruction and Plunder of Cultural Heritage in the Pacific War: A Silent Legacy; Old Records: New Possibilities, and The Legal Framework for Preserving the Pacific’s World War II-Era Past.
Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel with the law firm of Andrews Kurth, volunteered on behalf of LCCHP to speak about the conference. Mr. Kline began his work in the recovery of stolen art and cultural property in 1989 when he represented the Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus in litigation against an art dealer in Indianapolis that led to the recovery of Byzantine mosaics that had been stolen from a Church in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus.
“We thought no one had done a conference on cultural property stolen during World War II in the Pacific,” Mr. Kline said via telephone from his office in Washington DC where he has practiced for 35 years. “When we tried to find people knowledgeable about losses and restitution in the Pacific arena, it was very difficult to identify such experts.”
Mr. Kline is moderator of the panel on Old Records: New Possibilities:
The National Archives here in Washington contain some historical American records and translations of captured Japanese records. Records on wartime and occupation looting in the Pacific Theatre parallel the European records, but the records on events in Europe have been closely studied and due to the interest in Holocaust-related events. Archives on looting in the Pacific have been largely untouched, but we will have as speakers the people with the most knowledge about those records and how they can be put to use by scholars.
Mr. Kline represented the Church of St. Servatii, Quedlinburg, Germany, in recovering world-famous medieval religious treasures stolen in Allied-occupied Germany by an American officer and mailed home to Texas in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Mr. Kline has represented families of Holocaust survivors and heirs of Holocaust victims in recovering art taken by the Nazis during World War II in the systematic looting of art owned by Jews and others.
Old Records: New Possibilities also includes Miriam Kleiman, Public Affairs Specialist for the National Archives and Records Administration; Greg Bradsher, Archivist with the National Archives; and historian Marc Masurovsky. Mr. Kline explained:
Miriam Kleiman will talk about the history of these archives and how they developed. Greg Bradsher has produced a finding aid for the National Archives and he will discuss the records that exist and how his finding aid can be used. Marc Masurovsky will discuss the history of losses and restitution in the Pacific.
Mr. Kline discussed the example of Okinawa, one of the outer Japanese islands.
Okinawa was devastated in one of the worst battles of the war, on the level of Stalingrad. Whatever wasn’t destroyed was stolen later. Japanese soldiers are believed to have looted throughout the Pacific theatre that stretched all the way to India. The scope of Allied looting in Asia/Pacific region is not well understood. Recently an auction in Michigan attempted to sell 125 objects that shared the same provenance – that of an American sergeant who claimed that the pieces had been a gift to him after the Korean War. Fortunately the art market is getting more knowledgeable and more careful and these events are more commonly identified, followed up and referred to Homeland Security.
Mr. Kline mentioned that wartime and military occupation, beyond the loss of life and human suffering, raises many issues for the victor and the vanquished concerning the fate of culturally significant objects and sites.
"Stolen objects may remain concealed for decades in private collections or be donated or sold to a museum," Mr. Kline said. "Whether or not the object ends up in a private collection or a museum, theft is theft and the ownership of such objects must be considered.”