New York Museums are required by law to state which artworks were stolen by Nazis

Originally published in Far Out on August 15, 2022.

A new legal bill has been passed in New York by Governor Kathy Hochul, stating that museums are now required to acknowledge which of their artworks had been stolen by the Nazis from Jewish properties. The law will also apply to any artworks that had been part of a ‘forced sale’.

Hochul recently stated, “As New Yorkers, we are united in our solemn commitment to Holocaust survivors: We will never forget.” The new law acknowledged the fact that around 600,000 paintings had been stolen from Jewish people during World War II.

The legislation reads, “The looting was not only designed to enrich the Third Reich but also integral to the Holocaust’s goal of eliminating all vestiges of Jewish identity and culture. Many museums now display this stolen art with no recognition of their provenance.”

The legislation, which had first been brought to the fore by Senators Anna Kaplan and Nily Rozic, has now made it mandatory for any applicable artworks to be accompanied by a well-positioned plaque or sign.

In addition to this, the current law in New York states that any works that were made before 1945 and had changed hands during the Nazi Party’s reign in Germany have to be registered in the Art Loss Register, enabling any previously victims of theft to reclaim their property.

The new bill arrives after many losses have occurred across the past 20 years, in which artwork heirs have sued New York museums, claiming that some of the works displayed there had once belonged to their families.

Nily Rozic recently stated, “As antisemitism rises across New York and Holocaust survivors age, this new law will ensure that New York students are taught about what happens when hatred goes unchecked.”

However, the new laws do not extend to works that had been stolen outside of Europe, such as in the British colonial campaign that led to the theft of the Benin Bronzes.