New NY law requires museums to identify European art stolen by Nazis

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New NY law requires museums to identify European art stolen by Nazis

Anyone looking at a piece of art in New York museums will now know immediately if it was stolen by Nazis in World War II-era Europe, under a new state law passed this week.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a series of bills to raise awareness about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime by requiring museums to identify art that was stolen — especially from the Jewish community — during the Nazi era. The laws also aim to ensure that New York schools educate students about the Holocaust and require the New York State Department of Financial Services to maintain a list of banks that waive funds for Holocaust reparations.

The Nazis looted approximately 600,000 paintings from the Jewish community during World War II, according to government officials. New York has one of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors in the world.

“As New Yorkers, we are united in our solemn commitment to Holocaust survivors: We will never forget,” Hochul said in a statement. “These are individuals who have endured unspeakable tragedy, yet have persevered to build lives of meaning and purpose here in New York.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Brooklyn Museum did not disclose plans to credit Nazi-stolen art and did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new state law does not.

In 2018, the Guggenheim family returned a painting called “Artillerymen” to the surviving relatives of the German Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim, who was forced to flee Berlin after Adolf Hitler came to power.

Bruce Ratner, the chairman of the Museum of Jewish Heritage Board of Trustees, said that education about the Holocaust is the key to individual and collective responsibility.

“Teaching and learning about the Holocaust not only commemorates the victims, but also helps create a forum to examine the history and evolution of anti-Semitism at a time when we continue to see xenophobia, unfolding genocides, the ongoing refugee crisis and threats to democratic values,” Ratner said in a statement.

However, these new state laws do not address art stolen from non-European countries, especially during the colonial era.

After the racial reckoning that rocked the country in 2020, some American museums began working to repatriate their artworks to their countries of origin. For example, 16 museums that have Benin Kingdom Court Style art said they are in the repatriation process. Last year, the US returned more than 17,000 smuggled artifacts to Iraq.

Experts estimate that thousands of African works of art are still in museums around the world.

The governor’s office did not respond to questions about art stolen from non-European countries.

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