The Netherlands’ restitution policy
During the Nazi regime (1933-1945) a great many cultural objects were looted, confiscated, sold under duress or otherwise involuntarily lost. Tens of thousands of art objects and other artefacts from the Netherlands also ended up in Germany or elsewhere as a result. Some of these cultural objects were brought back to the Netherlands after the war (recovered), with the intention of returning them to the original owners or their heirs (restitution). A set of rules was drawn up for this to underpin the restitution policy.
The Netherlands’ restitution policy is based on the following ethical principles:
- The aim of the restitution policy is to try to redress the unprecedented injustice that was done to victims of the Nazi regime, by returning looted cultural property to its original owners (or their heirs), insofar as this had not already conclusively taken place in the years immediately after the war. In new applications for restitution the government would not invoke prescription and limitation law.
- The Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) obtains advice on requests for restitution from the independent ‘Advisory Committee on the Assessment of Restitution Applications for Items of Cultural Value and the Second World War’ (a.k.a. the Restitutions Committee).
- The restitution policy should be accessible to all. Anyone can submit an application without having to conduct their own research in advance. The applicant incurs no costs associated with the procedure or the provenance investigation. It is also not necessary to engage a lawyer or legal representative, but that may be done, of course.
The Netherlands’ restitution policy is based on the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art (1998) and a series of recommendations made by advisory committees which were used by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) to formulate the policy in the form of letters to the House of Representatives and in Decrees.
Assessment framework for restitution requests
The assessment framework applied by the Restitutions Committee when advising on restitution applications is based on the restitution policy. This is the guideline used to assess requests for advice from the minister on the restitution of cultural property held in the national collection. It is also used in requests for a binding decision on the restitution of cultural property that is not part of the national collection.
The assessment framework has been amended several times further to a series of recommendations made by several commissions. The most recent assessment framework can be found in the Annex to the amended Decree establishing the Restitution Committee (Dutch Government Gazette 2021, 20304).
You can read more (in Dutch) about the development of the restitution policy at: RCE Knowledge base (RCE Kennisbank).
Recovery in this context refers to tracing and returning to the Netherlands works of art that left the country illegally during, or as a result of, the Second World War.
The recovery policy consists of rules applied to cultural property that in contravention of the law were translocated in the period 1933-1945. These are objects located outside the Netherlands on which the Dutch State or a private individual can assert rights.
You can find a description (in Dutch) of the recovery policy at the RCE Knowledge base (RCE Kennisbank).
Requests from other States concerning cultural objects in the NK Collection
Requests from other countries for the return of works from the NK Collection which may have been wrongly recovered to the Netherlands are not submitted to the Restitutions Committee but handled bilaterally with the government of the country concerned.