About the Author: Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy serves as Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues.
Yesterday, I participated in a ceremony during which the United States returned two objects of great cultural significance to German representatives. The objects were taken by U.S. soldiers at the end of World War II.
The first object was a volume showing artwork Hitler planned for a museum in Linz, Austria. John Pistone, the soldier who discovered the volume, recently consulted with the Monuments Men Foundation, an organization honoring the World War II U.S. Army unit that sought to protect cultural objects. Robert Edsel, head of the Monuments Men Foundation and John Pistone attended the ceremony and were pleased to watch the object returned to Germany.
The second object, known as Das Augsburger Geschlechterbuch, was a 16th Century bound collection of drawings depicting members of several prominent German families. A U.S. soldier took the volume from a storage area where the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart placed objects for safekeeping. It was later sold to a private collector who tried to consign it to Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s immediately recognized the object’s significance and brought it to the attention of the German authorities. A U.S. Federal Court subsequently ruled that the volume is the property of the state of Baden Wuerttemberg.
Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew hosted the ceremony, and German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth and Heribert Rech, the Interior Minister for Baden Wuerttemberg, accepted the objects on behalf of the German people.
The ceremony precedes International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which takes place on January 27. The annual event marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. The event is recognized internationally as an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. While a candle-lighting ceremony will take place at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on January 27, the United States officially observes the Holocaust during the Days of Remembrance in April.
The Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues was honored to facilitate today’s event, and continues to develop and implement U.S. policy with respect to the return of Holocaust-era assets to their rightful owners, compensation for wrongs committed during the Holocaust and Holocaust remembrance. The Office does this in a manner that complements and supports broader U.S. interest and initiatives in a Europe committed to democracy, pluralism, human rights and tolerance.