New York law will force museums to release Nazi-looted works

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law Aug. 10 that will require museums across the state to publicly acknowledge if an exhibit on display passed into Nazi hands. The signing ceremony took place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. According to the new law, any exhibited artwork that “changed hands due to theft, seizure, confiscation, forced sale, or other unintended means” during World War II world and the period leading up to this conflict should be accompanied by a wall sticker or sign. detailing its history. New York law already requires that works of this nature be registered in the Register of art losses, the world’s largest private database of stolen works of art. The legislation does not apply to works seized in other contexts, by other parties at other times.

Recent years have seen a number of cases in which heirs have sued New York museums in an attempt to recover works, including three paintings by George Grosz who reside at the Museum of Modern Art and by Pablo Picasso The actor, 1904–05, which was previously owned by Jewish collectors Paul and Alice Leffmann and now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – they claim it was looted or sold under duress during the Nazi regime. In both cases, the museums were allowed to keep the works, in part because of the limitation period.

The invoice was presented by State Senator Anna M. Kaplan. “During the Holocaust, some 600,000 paintings were stolen from the Jewish people not just for their value, but to erase our culture and identity from the face of the earth,” Kaplan said in a statement. “Today, works of art previously stolen by the Nazis can be found hanging in museums around New York without any acknowledgment of the dark paths they walked there. The history of the Holocaust being so important to pass on to the next generation, it is essential that we are transparent and ensure that anyone viewing Nazi-looted artwork understands where it came from and what its role in history is.

The new law is one of many aimed at raising awareness of the Holocaust, widely seen as increasingly needed, as the event recedes into history and living memory of the tragedy fades. Hochul also signed legislation authorizing the Education Committee to investigate Holocaust education, and a right requiring the state’s Superintendent of Financial Services to maintain and update a list of financial institutions that waive wire transfers or processing fees associated with Holocaust reparations payments.

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