Twenty-five years after the founding of the Jewish Museum of Vienna, museum officials have admitted that many of the items in the museum’s possession were looted from Jewish families during the Holocaust. A review of the artifacts found 490 objects and more than 980 books that may have been stolen from Jewish owners.
Back in 1998, Austria passed a law requiring restitution for Jewish families who lost property to the Nazis. Prior to this, the Leopold Museum in Vienna spent 10 years fighting Jewish heirs who sought the return of two paintings. “For historic reasons people did not see themselves responsible for investigating the collection referring to provenance,” Christian Kircher, a member of the Vienna Jewish museum’s board, told the New York Times. “This attitude changed completely during the last few years.”
While the Jewish Museum of Vienna is not the first institution to have such items, many have said that as a Jewish museum it has a special responsibility to find any living descendants of the original owners and to return the items.
The investigation of the items’ origin, which began in 2008, was completed only recently. Museum officials said that researching the origin of Judaica can be very difficult, given the few identifying markers and the fact that most Jewish institutions that existed before the Holocaust were completely destroyed. They also cited the lack of funds for such research. “Our situation is not comparable to any other museum in Austria,” said Museum Director Danielle Spera.