Should there be a time limit on restitution claims?

Klaus Albrecht Schröder, the director of the Albertina Museum in Vienna thinks so. 

“The international community should decide on a sensible time frame of 20 or 30 years from now,” he told The Art Newspaper. “If we don’t set a time limit of around 100 years after the end of the Second World War, then we should ask ourselves why claims regarding crimes committed during the First World War should not still be valid; why we don’t argue anymore about the consequences of the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war, and why we don’t claim restitution of works of art that have been stolen during previous wars?”

Since the guidelines for restitution were first laid out in 1998, Austria has returned 50,000 works of art to the heirs of those whose works were looted by the Nazis. His call for a a deadline for the restitution of these works is motivated by the belief that it will become more difficult to establish accurate provenances for works as time progresses. Not only this, but as the value of many of these works of art get increasingly vertiginous museums will be no longer be able to afford to buy these works to keep.

“Without ever forgetting the ferocious crimes of the war,” he says, “I think we must come to the point in which history is accepted as history and it can be laid to rest.”
But the Austrian-Jewish community disagrees, citing the lengthy processes of litigation and research as a reason not to institute time limits. Danielle Spera, director of the Jewish Museum in Vienna says: “In our country the debate on restitution started very recently, too recently, and litigations have been strung out far too much. We have an immense obligation towards the Holocaust era. The discussion should not be about time limits but rather on how provenance research can be carried out as efficiently and rapidly as possible.”

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