During the years of Nazi domination between 1933 and 1945 a relocation of cultural items took place whose full scope has still not been completely explored and investigated. The art theft during National Socialism was followed by the activities of the Soviet Trophy Commissions or acts by individual Allied military personnel. Changes in post-war boundaries led to a situation where many of the cultural objects removed and relocated for purposes of protection during wartime were now located on foreign territory.
In order to document the knowledge about these lost cultural items, register the losses of German institutions and thus provide a foundation for the search and eventual return of these objects of culture, the Länder Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia set up the "Koordinierungsstelle für die Rückführung von Kulturgütern" in Bremen (Coordination office for the return of lost cultural property), which took up work in 1994. Since 1998, all 16 Länder have become involved as participants in the Koordinierungsstelle, which has been located since that year in Magdeburg.
Reacting to the 1998 Washington Conference "Principles with Respect to Nazi-Confiscated Art" (Washington Principles), in December 1999, a joint declaration was adopted: Erklärung der Bundesregierung, der Länder und der kommunalen Spitzenverbände zur Auffindung und zur Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturgutes, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz (Statement of the German Federal Government, the Länder and the National Associations of Local Authorities regarding on the tracing and return of Nazi-Confiscated Art, especially with regard to Jewish property).
Section III of this declaration stipulates that the institutions with cultural objects in their possession should pass on the findings of their research on cultural objects taken from their rightful owners in the course of Nazi persecution to the Koordinierungsstelle. The Koordinierungsstelle will then publish these results on the Internet.
As a working basis for locating and registering these cultural objects, an appropriate handout document was provided.
In connection with the expansion of its assigned tasks, in January 2001 the former "Koordinierungsstelle für die Rückführung von Kulturgütern" in Bremen became the "Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg". It is now an institution of both the Federal Government and the Länder.
The Federal Government and the Länder participate in international negotiations on the basis of international law and contractual agreements with an aim to securing the return of cultural items which were relocated as a result of the war. Within the Federal Government, the Federal Foreign Office is responsible for conducting such negotiations. The Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs is responsible for the preparation of contents and agreement with the Länder. The Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs is also the chief negotiator in the negotiations with Russia about the restitution of cultural assets moved in World War II.
© Stiftung Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste - 2021