“Our commitment must be to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity's common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (the Claims Conference) is supporting a series of projects aiming to make the Nazi records of cultural plunder during World War II publicly available.
These projects have located and documented original Nazi files on the looting of hundreds of thousands of cultural valuables. Records that pertain to artwork from this period have previously been very difficult and expensive to access, but are necessary to determine whether a piece of art was looted during the Second World War.
The records come from the files of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the primary Nazi agency responsible for looting cultural valuables in Nazi-occupied countries. The ERR was a special operational task force headed by Alfred Rosenberg, a key Nazi ideologue. It was formed by Hitler on 17 July 1940, and operated in close cooperation with the Wehrmacht and Security Police in the occupied territories.
Reconstructing the Record of Nazi Cultural Plunder: A Survey of the Dispersed Archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) has been published online at www.iisg.nl/publications/errsurvey. This survey was written by Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, the preeminent expert on World War II displaced archives, who tracked down the original ERR records currently located in 29 repositories in 9 countries. Her project was funded and assisted by the Claims Conference and published by the International Institute for Social History, whose own Amsterdam and Paris libraries and archives were plundered by the ERR during World War II. The survey documents the current locations of all ERR records, details their contents, and provides links to online sources. It also describes considerable documentation regarding the subsequent fate, postwar retrieval, and restitution of items looted by the ERR.
The ERR's records include not only art objects, but also items taken from libraries, archives, Masonic lodges, and religious buildings in the occupied countries of Western and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. These cultural objects were taken from both Jews and non-Jews, particularly in the former Soviet Union, where the ERR primarily plundered from Soviet state institutions.
In addition to the publication of the survey, the Claims Conference is supporting two additional initiatives related to the ERR records. One is the ongoing imaging of the ERR files located in Kiev, Moscow, Vilnius, Berlin, Koblenz, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, and Washington. The other is the joint initiative of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to create a Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume in Paris that brings together all documentation in a searchable form. This includes photographs of the over 20,000 major art objects that the ERR confiscated from Jews in Paris, other parts of France, and parts of Belgium. The website was launched in October 2010 and can be found at: www.errproject.org/jeudepaume.