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Public interest in looted and confiscated art from the World War II era has increased greatly at the international level. Private parties and researchers worldwide are investigating the inventories of archives and museums in search of cultural objects which disappeared during World War II and remain missing today. Meanwhile public and private museums in Europe and the USA have also begun checking their own inventories. In several countries task forces and commissions have been appointed at the federal level to reappraise archives, check questions of provenance, or accept and investigate claims of former owners and their heirs. A few private organizations and interest associations have dedicated themselves to these tasks too.
Procedures, rules, and agreements have hardly been worked out to date in the field where this variety of activities is occurring. Sealed or difficult-to-access archives, varying research methods and standards, as well as differing levels of understanding among the centers responsible greatly complicate scientific reappraisal. Also lacking at present is broad-based information networking among experts working for the study commissions, the interested organizations, and individual researchers. Finally legal bases and procedures differ from country to country, making it difficult for claimants to identify and pursue potential routes for resolution. Above all, private parties without specific expertise or support from an organization often face difficult hurdles here. In recognition of this problem the Swiss Federal Council decided to set up a Contact Bureau on Looted Art which falls under the Federal Office of Culture. The Swiss Confederation bases its activities in the area of looted art on the three pillars of transparency, legality and adequacy.
At the international level, Switzerland added its signature, along with 43 other states, to the "Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art" at the international Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in December 1998, thereby declaring that it attached great importance to the issue of looted art. Furthermore Switzerland participated at the end of June 2009 in the international "Holocaust Era Assets Conference" in Prague and adopted the "Terezin Declaration" together with 46 other nations (cf. Further information).
Contact Bureau on Looted Art
The Contact Bureau on Looted Art is a center of expertise at the federal level to respond to all issues linked to looted art from the World War II era. Its scope of activity includes the three following task areas:
Inquiries within the federal scope of competence
The Bureau itself will process inquiries, follow-up research, and claims which affect the federal art collections, the National Museum, and the National Library fall into this category.
Inquiries within the scope of competence of other institutions or private parties
Inquiries which fall into other institution's or private parties' areas of responsibility will be relayed by the Bureau to these institutions or persons. Where necessary, the Bureau will provide general information. The goal is to make available a contact bureau for researchers and claimants at the federal level and to contribute toward satisfactory solution in case of disputes.
Center of competence
The Bureau will also cultivate contact with foreign institutions and organizations which deal with the looted-art problem. It will promote exchange of general information. Hence a contribution should be made to networking information, identifying the problem, and solving it.
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