Austrian Press Agency (June 27, 2009)
Prague – On Saturday more than one hundred experts and government representatives from forty-nine various countries came together for a conference on the Holocaust lasting several days. Above all, they discussed the return of so-called looted art and Holocaust education in schools and universities. The participants hope to establish guidelines for art restitution and found a European Institute in Terezin when adopting the Declaration of Terezin (Theresienstadt).
Austria was represented by Minister of Culture Claudia Schmied, Secretary General of the National Fund of the Republic of Austria Hannah Lessing, Ambassador Margot Klestil-Löffler and Executive Director of the Jewish Community Vienna Erika Jakubovits.
Czech European Minister Stefan Füle said that “the conference is one of the most important events of our Presidency of the EU Council.“ One wishes to build on the “Washington Agreement“ of 1998 in which forty-four countries agreed to the foundations of the restitution of unlawfully looted art works. Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said that “the simplest answer after WW II would have been to return the victims‘ money and property.“
“One should take a much more concrete, detailed and specific stand on problems related to looted art,“ demanded Georg Heuberger, representative of the Jewish Claims Conference in Germany in an interview with the German press agency. “We cannot seriously estimate how many cases it involves.“ Heuberger refused all suggestions of drawing a final line to the discussion.
“There can be no limitations on the time period as long as the museums have not lived up to their responsibility of looking extensively and systematically into their inventory, researching provenance….and returning to people what is theirs.“
According to an investigation by the Jewish Claims Conference, only about one-third of all countries involved have “developed any noteworthy activity in the area of art restitution. That is staggering and unacceptable. Diplomats, should they refuse to hear, stuff their ears with Oropax.“ Heuberger reminded one that among those submitting claims, it often involves the third generation after the war“ and that it is high time to bring the issue to closure.
On the margins of the conference, Prague’s Literature House of German-Speaking Authors unveiled a commemorative plaque to the German-Jewish writer Lenka Reinervoa who died one year ago. As the oldest German-speaking author in Prague, Reinerova had committed herself to reconciliation between the Czech Republic and Germany. Shortly before her death the Bundestag read a widely talked about speech by Reinerova when the author was no longer able to attend the session out of health reasons.