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James Snyder and a Prominent Curator on Nazi-Loot Issues

James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, had this to say about my post, Israel Museum Mounts Exhibitions Seeking Rightful Owners of Nazi Loot:
Our JRSO project [an upcoming exhibition of heirless works that came to the Jerusalem museum from the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization] has been in the works for a long time—unrelated to [the recent claims made by] the new Holocaust assets company, whose focus is primarily on real estate, bank assets, and insurance proceeds. The exhibition is the culmination of many years of proactive work. Our MNR project is also the result of many years of collaborative work with our French colleagues, after overcoming a number of well-reported hurdles, like passing immunity-from-seizure legislation in Israel [which occurred last February].
—An important American museum curator who requested anonymity mentioned the “fascinating and confusing and ultimately frustrating” task of sorting through the Musées Nationaux Récupération’s (MNR’s) online catalogue of some 2,000 works, held in custody by the French National Museums. (The catalogue is an important resource used by U.S. museums to research the provenance of works in their collections.)
Many MNR works, he indicated, have gaps in their ownership histories at the point before they were purchased by Germans or Austrians from Paris dealers during the Nazi occupation. The curator speculated that many of those sales were probably made “quasi-voluntarily” by non-Jewish collectors, because “money was scarce and the Monets were less important than being able to buy food.”
He also observed that the reason why those works, although not looted, have landed in MNR custody is that France “invalidated the collaborationist sales,” reclaimed the works from those who had acquired them from Nazi-occupied Paris, and received no inquiries about them from the prior French owners (or their heirs) who had sold them during the occupation.
The curator also expressed hope that the catalogue for the Israel Museum’s upcoming MNR exhibition may help to illuminate these murky areas.
Not mentioned by the American curator is the fact that there are similar ambiguities surrounding works from the JRSO collection, now on deposit at the Israel Museum: As Snyder had previously explained to me, not all of those works had been owned by Jews persecuted or killed by the Nazis: They are works from institutions and communities that did not survive the war, or works with no record of ownership—“orphaned art,” in the words of the upcoming exhibition’s title.

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