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August 3, 2013

Anna A. Perl on "Poland's Restitution Efforts in the United States" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

In the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Anna A. Perl writes on "Poland's Restitution Efforts in the United States":
During the Second World War Polish public and private art collections suffered tremendous losses due to theft, confiscation, coercive transfer and looting by the Germans and Soviets. The recent restitution efforts undertaken by Poland's government in the United States are presented against a historical background. The article recognizes the difficulties encountered throughout the restitution process, resulting inter alia from large-scale destruction of records, lapse of time, complexities of provenance research, and intersection of international and national legal systems. The analysis examines legal remedies, which are available to original owners pursuing their restitution claims in the United States. The article recognizes the commitment of the US museum community to addressing the issues of unlawfully appropriated art. Examples of recent restitutions from American collections, both public and private, are illustrative of different means, by which resolution of cultural property disputes has proven successful in the last decade.
Anna A. Perl is First Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, DC. Prior to assuming her current position, she was Deputy Director of the Department of Cultural Heritage at the Poland's Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. From 2001 to 2006, she served as a political officer at the Polish Embassy in Washington, DC. Anna Perl received her master's degrees in law and applied linguistics from the University of Warsaw, Poland. She holds a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree from the Colombus School of Law of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and is a member of the New York Bar.

Ms. Perl writes in her article:
Any analysis of the efforts to recover works of art lost or displaced during and in the aftermath of World War II should be seen against a historical background. Few countries suffered cultural losses on a scale comparable to that of Poland. The agreement signed in August of 1939 between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and their joint invasion of Poland brought defeat to the county and plunder of its cultural property on a massive and unprecedented scale. The once splendid art collections were destroyed or dispersed due to theft, confiscation, coercive transfer and looting by the Germans and Soviets. The fate of the Warsaw University Library is a case in point. Home to the oldest and most valuable graphics collection in pre-WWII Poland, the Library lost in the years 1939 through 1945 more than 60,000 prints and drawings. Three magnificent pen and ink drawings by Dürer that were housed in this prestigious institution never returned to Warsaw. 
The confiscation of works of art was meticulously planned and implemented with a ruthless precision by the German authorities in the weeks and months following the occupation of Poland. In the early days of October 1939, the German Confiscating Commission arrived in Warsaw to carry out its mission of "safeguarding" Polish culture property. It was responsible for much of the looting carried out on behalf of the Reich. A formal decree of December 16, 1939, issued by Hans Frank, Nazi General Governor of Generalgouvernement, institutionalized the looting and provided a basis for Nazi pillage. The most valuable artworks seized by the Nazis were included into a catalogue known as Sichergestellte Kunstwerke im Generalgouvernement, which governor Frank presented to Hitler in 1940. This "catalogue of plunder" contained descriptions and photographs of 521 masterpieces. Post-war restitution efforts resulted in several returns, yet some of the most treasured artifacts, such as Portrait of a young man by Rafael, or the three pen and ink drawings by Dürer stolen from the Warsaw University Library are still missing.
Ms. Perl's article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA, and available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.