Austria returns looted art

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The Independent Online
SIXTY YEARS after the 1938 "Anschluss" with Nazi Germany, Austria enacted a law providing for the return of Jewish artworks that were plundered by the Nazis or donated under coercion from postwar Austrian governments.

The law was adopted unanimously yesterday and covers art that entered state-run Austrian museums and art collections under questionable circumstances during the seven years of Nazi rule.

Austria was annexed by the Nazis in March 1938. After the war, Austria insisted it had been a victim of aggression. But in 1991, Austria's leader, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, publicly acknowledged that "not a few" Austrians had participated in wartime atrocities.

Austria's first postwar government also effectively confiscated hundreds of paintings from Jewish owners and their heirs, using a law from 1923 preventing the export of artworks.

The government allowed some Jews to reclaim their art and take it out of the country, but forced them to "donate" many others in exchange.

Last February, Austria's Culture Minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, promised to shed light on how the state kept back works after 1945. According to Ms Gehrer, about 500 art objects were held back after 1945 under the export ban and remained as "donations" in Austria's museums and galleries. (Reuters)