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American Association of Museums Launches Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal

WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 8, 2003) The American Association of Museums (AAM) today launched the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, a central registry of objects in U.S. museums that could have changed hands in Continental Europe during the Nazi era, 1933-1945.  The Portal,, helps people refine their search for objects that were unjustly appropriated by the Nazis during World War II.

“Museums have assumed the responsibility of researching the Nazi-era provenance of objects in their collection and the Portal is a pipeline to the findings of that research,” noted Edward H. Able, Jr., AAM’s President and CEO. “Participating in the Portal allows America’s museums to make their Nazi-era provenance information centrally accessible to the public they serve, to the world-wide public.”

The Portal was created through a joint commitment of the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors during discussions with the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets.  “We wanted the world to know that American museums are committed to the notion that museums should hold only those objects to which they hold clear title,” Able added.

Over the past decade, U.S. museums have recognized that some of the objects unlawfully appropriated during the Nazi era without subsequent restitution—neither return of the object nor payment of compensation to the object’s original owner or legal successor— made their way into U.S. museum collections in the years following the war. In response to this issue, AAM adopted the “Guidelines Concerning the Unlawful Appropriation of Objects During the Nazi Era” instructing museums to research the provenance, or ownership history, of objects in their collections that could have changed hands in Continental Europe between 1932 and 1946. The guidelines, available online at under “Ethics Guidelines,” also instruct museums to make the resulting information available to the public.

Concurrent with the creation of these guidelines, two international conferences and the U.S. Presidential commission focusing on Nazi-era assets identified the need for a centralized, widely accessible collection of information to assist in searching for missing objects. In late 1999, an advisory committee of museum professionals, claimants’ representatives, researchers, and officials of the U.S. Government came together to design such a search tool for U.S. museums. The result is the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal.

Using the Portal, a person seeking a missing object can search by Artist’s Name, Nationality of Artist, Title, or Keywords among other options. The Portal will return information about potentially matching objects in the collections of its participating museums.  For additional information about an object or to make a claim the person can then contact the participating museum using information provided by the Portal.  The presence of an object in the Portal does not mean it was looted by the Nazis; rather, it means the object might have been sold or transferred somewhere in Continental Europe between 1932 and 1946.

Claimants’ representatives expect that the Portal will speed their research. “Claimants and/or their representatives need a single, easy to use interface, so they don't have to spend hours and hours searching each U.S. museum’s Web site separately,” notes Monica Dugot, an attorney and Deputy Director of the New York State Banking Department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office, which provides institutional assistance to individuals seeking to recover looted Holocaust-era assets. “Locating an object is a major hurdle in the recovery of art objects. The Portal will simplify the search process for claimants. By making available provenance information more speedily and easily accessible, fair resolution of Holocaust-era claims will be facilitated.  Freely accessible information is key to resolving these claims.”

The Portal also helps museums enlist researchers around the world to help clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections. “Tracing provenance is complicated,” notes Nancy Yeide of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  “Information may exist in a variety of locations: archives, museums, libraries, private collections, and documentation centers. One way to make progress is to share discoveries. The Portal will help put researchers in contact with museums to compare information and potentially resolve questions of provenance.”

The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal was made possible through generous support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Commission for Art Recovery of the World Jewish Congress, Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Getty Grant Program, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany – Rabbi Israel Miller Fund for Shoah Research, Documentation, and Education, and the Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation.

For more information, please visit or, where a variety of resources on Nazi-era provenance are available, including informative books from AAM’s Bookstore. 

As the national service organization representing the American museum community, the American Association of Museums addresses the needs of museums to enhance their ability to serve the public. AAM disseminates information on current standards and best practices and provides professional development for staff to ensure that museums contribute to public education in its broadest sense and protect and preserve our cultural heritage. Since its founding in 1906, AAM has grown to more than 15,800 members including nearly 3,000 museums, over 10,000 museum professionals and trustees, and 2,300 corporate members.


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