International conference on restitution of cultural property in Krakow, „Zrabowane – odzyskane”

From 12th to 14th November 2014, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland hosted a conference in Krakow entitled Looted-Recovered: Cultural Goods – The Case of Poland; with the aim of addressing the topic of the restitution of looted artworks to Poland. The conference served as an important discussion on the war histories of cultural goods, the documentation of losses, research into these issues, and the experiences of restitution thus far. The conference was officially opened by Prof. Dr. Małgorzata Omilanowska – Minister of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland – and Prof. Dr. Jacek Purchla – Director of the International Cultural Centre in Krakow and host of the conference.

The conference opened with an in-depth discussion of Polish wartime losses, with the keynote lecture being delivered by Lynn Nicholas – internationally-renowned researcher and author of the bestselling book “The Rape of Europa”. The entire first day of the conference was devoted to the issue of Soviet looting in Poland during and immediately after the Second World War and included addresses from a wide variety of experts, including Dr Edyta Gawron of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, who spoke on wartime losses of Polish Jews; and Dr. Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, who discussed the return of Polish archives from Moscow.

The second day of the conference focused on the issue of restitution, with a particular emphasis on the context of international and comparative policy and legal solutions to the issue of art looting and wartime plunder. Local legal experts and representatives of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage addressed participants in the morning, whilst the afternoon saw comparative legislative assessments discussed in the American, Hungarian, and German contexts. The conference concluded with a provenance research training workshop delivered by members of the Ministry of Culture, followed by a guided tour of the nearby Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.

The conference was well-planned, informative, and thoroughly enjoyed by all participants. It successfully promoted enhanced knowledge of the level and scope of Polish wartime losses, and has no doubt contributed significantly to the ongoing debate on the restitution of looted artworks to Poland.