German Culture Minister Pledges to Reform Nazi Art Restitution Commission

German State Culture Minister Monika Grütters speaks to the media after signing an agreement moments before with Swiss and Bavarian representatives over the future of the Gurlitt Collection on November 24, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Nazi-era German art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt, horded a massive collection of art, much of it believed to originate from Jewish families persecuted by the Nazis, in his Munich apartment for decades until Bavarian tax authorites came across it last year in a revelation that stunned the art world. Cornelius Gurlitt has since died and bequeathed the collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern art museum, and the museum, today with the German government, announced it is accepting the collection and outlined its plan how it will deal with possible cliams from families and museums who might have a legitimate claim on the works.

German State Culture Minister Monika Grütters. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

After years of public scrutiny, Germany is finally rethinking the way it restitutes Nazi-looted art to Jewish families. On Friday, culture minister Monika Grütters announced plans to reform the Limbach Commission, an independent panel established in 2003 that oversees restitution cases, due to its lack of transparency and sluggish track record, reports the Art Newspaper.

“13 years after it was established, it is time to think about the future development of the commission in the interest of improved implementation of the Washington Principles,” Grütters said in a statement. The Principles, which were agreed upon by 44 countries in 1998, call for governments to form independent commissions to settle restitution cases.

While commissions from other nations have made impressive headway settling cases—the Netherlands has made 140 recommendations since its commission was formed in 2002—the Limbach Commission has lagged noticeably behind its peers. To date, the German group has only made 13 recommendations. But, unlike its counterparts, Germany’s commission is only able to make recommendations if its panel of eight members agrees unanimously, which may (in part) account for the holdup over the years.

Another snag in proceedings for Germany has been the commission’s reluctance to establish “balanced membership,” another requirement set by the Washington Principles. The panel still has yet to appoint anyone of Jewish faith, a decision Grütters defended in a March statement to the New York Times by saying the addition of a Jewish member “would be the only voice who would be prejudiced.” However, she has since reversed her stance after Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, appealed to her during a meeting in New York City, the paper said.

Grütters says a working group comprised of cultural officials from 16 German states will be formed to draft reform proposals for the Commission, to be presented later this year.

German Culture Minister Pledges to Reform Nazi Art Restitution Commission