Under the domination of the Nazis from 1933 to 1945, a great many works of art were confiscated in Germany and in annexed and occupied countries. Looted art of this kind was dispersed abroad and on occasion ended up in Switzerland, both during the time of German National Socialism and thereafter.
Soon after the end of the Second World War, steps began to be taken to reimburse or compensate the victims – both on the international level and within Switzerland. Since the 1990s there has been another marked increase in public interest, both national and international, in looted and plundered art from the time of German National Socialism. In the spring of 1998 the Swiss Federal Office of Culture published a report on an investigation into the provenance of cultural property in the possession of the Swiss Confederation, with particular reference to the issue of Nazi-looted art. The same year saw the publication of a study on Switzerland as an art market in the years from 1933 to 1945, which was commissioned by the Federal Office of Culture and the Nationale Informationsstelle für Kulturgüter-Erhaltung (NIKE).
At international level, in December 1998 the Swiss Confederation took part, along with 43 other nations, in the pioneering Washington Conference, and made a significant contribution to the elaboration of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art (the “Washington Principles”). These are non-binding guidelines aimed at bringing about just and fair solutions in cases where art works have been confiscated.
Following the Washington Conference, on 26 January 1999 the Swiss Federal Council set up the Contact Bureau on Looted Art. In dealing with issues arising from Nazi-looted art, this institution recommends a transparent, legal and adequate approach with the aim of arriving at just and fair solutions.
Work in connection with Nazi-looted art pursues the following goals:
- to facilitate research into the provenance of art works;
- to improve transparency and foster a responsible approach to past history, through publication of the results of provenance research; and
- to enable the achievement of just and fair solutions in cases of looted art as recommended by the Washington Principles.
Last modification 11.05.2021