The Lost Art Database is maintained by the German Lost Art Foundation. It documents cultural property that was either demonstrably seized from their owners between 1933 and 1945 as a result of Nazi persecution, or for which such a seizure cannot be ruled out ("Nazi-looted art/cultural property").
In addition, the Lost Art Database lists cultural property seized, relocated or removed as a result of the Second World War (“trophy art”).
Search Requests and Found-Object Reports
The Search Requests section lists cultural objects that were lost by private individuals and institutions or public institutions as a result of National Socialist dictatorship or in the course of the Second World War. Their locations are usually unknown, but the search list also includes objects whose locations, e.g. in Russia, are known.
The Found-Object Reports section lists artefacts that are known to have been seized or relocated due to Nazi persecution or as a result of the Second World War. Furthermore, reports on cultural property are published here, for which an uncertain or incomplete provenance indicates a possibly unlawful seizure or a war-related relocation.
In the case of Found-Object Reports, it is not always possible to make a clear assignment to a specific context of loss, as experience has shown that today's owners often do not know the details of the provenance of the artefacts in their possession.
Historical contexts of injustice
Between 1933 and 1945, millions of cultural objects were relocated, confiscated and looted: Persecutees of the Nazi tyranny became victims of state-organized cultural property looting in the form of "Aryanizations," expropriations, forced sales, or forced donations.
At the end of the war, the activities of the Soviet trophy commissions, the thefts of individual military personnel of the Allied forces, or territorial shifts led to the fact that cultural property that had been removed from storage were no longer returned to their original location and were looted, transferred, or relocated as "war trophy." In the Soviet Union in particular, they were intended to serve as compensation for war damage and losses suffered.
Legal and ethical foundations
The legal foundations for the restitution of cultural property expropriated as a result of Nazi persecution after the Second World War were the Additional Federal Compensation Act of 1953, the Federal Compensation Act (BEG) of 1956 and the Federal Restitution Act (BRüG) of 1957. However, they did not come close to reversing the property transfers. The deadlines for filing claims have since expired.
In 1998, the Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated art were adopted at the international level. In 1999, Germany followed this historical and moral commitment and issued the Joint Declaration. Point III of the Joint Declaration calls for a public document listing lost and found objects that have been identified by public institutions as or are suspected to be Nazi-looted cultural property. Against this background, the Lost Art Database was put online in April 2000 and Guidelines were prepared by the German Federal Government, the Länder and the national associations of local authorities in 2001.
The starting point for the repatriation of cultural property displaced by war is international law, and in particular the Hague Convention of 1907: Among other things, it prohibits looting (Art. 47 HLKO), protects private property, and prohibits the confiscation, destruction, or damage of works of art (Art. 56 HLKO).
In order to document losses of cultural property from the years 1933 to 1945 and to create a basis for their repatriation, ten German Länder founded the "Koordinierungsstelle der Länder für die Rückführung von Kulturgütern [Coordination Office of the German Federal States for the Repatriation of Cultural Property]" in Bremen in 1994. Since 1998, all 16 Länder and, from 2001, the Federal Government, have participated in the Coordination Office, which was given its headquarters in Magdeburg (Koordinierungsstelle Magdeburg) and merged into the German Lost Art Foundation in 2015.
Titles and descriptions of objects in the Lost Art Database may contain discriminatory terms that reflect historical discourses and power relations. They go back to titles given by artists, manufacturers or authors, or have been handed down through historical inventories, inscriptions, catalogs, etc. We are aware that the use of these terms reproduces discriminatory language. However, in order to ensure that works remain traceable under their historical titles, we have decided to retain these terms. Documentation of historical work titles is essential for provenance research.