New Law Requires NY Museums to Label Nazi-Looted Art

Elaine Velie

August 17, 2022

Originally published in Hyperallergic on August 17, 2022.

A New York State law passed last week requires museums to identify art stolen by Nazis in placards “prominently placed” alongside the works. It covers art that changed hands due to “theft, seizure, confiscation, forced sale, or other involuntary means” during the Nazi era in Europe (1933–1945).

“During the Holocaust, some 600,000 paintings were stolen from Jewish people not only for their value, but to wipe our culture and identity off the face of the Earth,” said State Senator Anna M. Kaplan, who introduced the bill, in a press release. “Today, artwork previously stolen by Nazis can be found hanging in museums around New York with no recognition of the dark paths they traveled there.”

New York museums have returned Nazi-looted work sporadically over the last several years. In 2018, the Guggenheim Museum returned a Nazi-looted Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painting to the heirs of a German Jewish art dealer, and in 2019, the upstate Arkell Museum surrendered a Gari Melchers painting that had been stolen from Rudolf Mosse in 1933 Germany. The painting was returned to his descendants.

“With the history of the Holocaust being so important to pass on to the next generation, it’s vital that we be transparent and ensure that anyone viewing artwork stolen by the Nazis understand where it came from and its role in history,” Kaplan said.

Governor Kathy Hochul signed the law into effect at Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage on August 10. It’s part of a trifecta of legislation to educate New Yorks on the Holocaust and support survivors. The other two laws will determine whether schools are meeting the state’s 1994 Holocaust education mandates and require the Department of Financial Services to publish a list of banks that wave wire transfer fees for Holocaust reparation payments.

“We owe it to [Holocaust survivors], their families, and the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust to honor their memories and ensure future generations understand the horrors of this era,” Governor Hochul said.

The legislation comes as antisemitism has been on the rise in recent years. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League recorded the highest number of antisemitic incidents since it began tracking them in the 1970s.