The Swiss city of Zurich. Photo: MadGeographer via Wikimedia Commons.
Switzerland’s House of Representatives has unanimously agreed to call on the government to set up an independent panel to assess claims about artworks allegedly seized by Nazis during World War II, Swiss media reported Wednesday.
Lawmaker Jon Pult, who submitted a parliamentary motion last year to consider creating such a panel, pointed out that other countries — including Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Britain — already have similar expert commissions to make recommendations on instances of cultural items confiscated by the Nazis, according to the online news service Swissinfo.
Explaining his push to set up an independent panel, Pult said, “Switzerland would be making its contribution to addressing a dark chapter of history and living up to its responsibility in handling cultural property lost as a result of Nazi persecution.”
The House of Representatives also voted to have the panel examine claims regarding colonial era cultural goods. The Senate has yet to debate the proposals, but Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset told Parliament on Wednesday that the government was willing to prepare a bill to support the motion, according to Swissinfo.
The proposal for an independent panel came in response to criticism over the display of a collection at Zurich’s Kunsthaus art museum that opened in October 2021. The collection features approximately 200 pieces owned by German art collector Emil Georg Bührle, who sold weapons to Nazi Germany during World War II, bought Nazi-looted art and profited from forced slave labor in Germany.
The Bührle Foundation, which owns the works showcased in the museum, said none of the items were looted from Jews, but critics have advocated that independent provenance research be conducted and a panel set up to weigh the claims.
Switzerland and 44 other countries signed the Washington Conference Principles in 1998, agreeing to identify Nazi-confiscated art, open records and archives to researchers, and strive to obtain “just and fair solutions” with the original owners and their heirs. The signatories were also encouraged to establish “alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for resolving ownership issues.”