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The Commission's Work

The findings grow out of the Commission's consideration of extensive original historical research (contained in the Staff Report to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States), as well as the Commission's hearings and participation in conferences and meetings, the professional expertise and personal experience of the Commissioners, and other information-gathering efforts. 4

The Commission considered the Staff Report and deliberated over findings and policy recommendations over the course of eight meetings. At these meetings, the Commissioners sought to advance the understanding of the U.S. government's handling of the assets of victims of the Holocaust by planning and setting the parameters of the research effort. They met with experts on archival research, on tracking financial assets, and on how best to secure the release of classified documents. The Commission appreciates the extremely helpful presentations by Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Records Services at the National Archives and member of the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group, and Irwin Nack, Investigative Counsel with the New York State Banking Department. The Commission consulted the Departments of State, Treasury and Justice, the New York State Holocaust Claims Processing Office, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, and the comptrollers of the State and City of New York, among others. The Commissioners also reviewed research papers prepared by the staff and grappled with a wide range of policy recommendations.

In addition to its regular working meetings, the Commission held a hearing on art and cultural property in New York City on April 12, 2000. The hearing brought together experts from the museum community, the art trade and organizations that assist victims in making their claims for cultural property looted from their families. It facilitated a dialogue on the responsibilities of the art world toward victims, their heirs and the public. 5

The Commission benefited from the results of the London Conference on Nazi Gold (December 1997) and the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets (December 1998), and participated in the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (January 2000) and the Vilnius International Forum on Holocaust Era Cultural Assets (October 2000). In addition, Commission staff held meetings abroad and in Washington with representatives and scholars from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The Commission staff also convened a panel of outside experts to comment on the draft report. In September 2000, Dr. Jeffrey Clarke of the Center of Military History, Professor Marion Deshmukh of George Mason University, Professor Gerald Feldman of the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Peter Hayes of Northwestern University, Dr. Martin Dean of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, author Lynn Nicholas, Professor Jonathan Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Elizabeth White of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations reviewed the staff draft and offered recommendations.

In addition to overseeing the preparation of the historical report, the Commission worked to develop suggested "best practices" for banks and corporations that should govern those entities' conduct of their own investigations. Because the overwhelming majority of foreign assets were originally on deposit in New York State, the Commission worked with the New York Bankers Association and several of its members to encourage them to develop best practices to assure the transparency of the research into various assets of those who may have become victims of the Holocaust. Those assets include: (1) dormant bank accounts; (2) interest and dividend payments that might have accrued to shareholders or bondholders; and (3) dormant safe deposit boxes. These discussions have resulted in a set of suggested best practices that can be endorsed by banking associations and followed by individual banks.

The Commission, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), and the American Association of Museums (AAM) agreed that the museum community would affirm its commitment to a series of standards to govern provenance research about art from the Holocaust era, including full disclosure and publication of that research on the Internet in a central and accessible registry. Commissioners and staff also held discussions with representatives of the art trade, including the Art Dealers Association of America and Christie's Auction House, and hope to conclude a similar agreement before the Commission's mandate expires.

The Commission has contributed to ongoing art provenance research in two ways: (1) through the posting on its website of two American intelligence reports on the Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler collections; and (2) through the
development of a database for outstanding claims for certain items of art and cultural property collected between 1952 - 1956 by Ardelia Hall, the Arts and Monuments Advisor in the Department of State. Hall initially proposed that the claims be published in leading U.S. art magazines, but this plan was never implemented and only a few experts are aware of the information she collected. This information has not been widely consulted in the last 45 years.

Posting this database in a searchable form on the Internet will help museum officials to research the provenance of works in their collections and help claimants recover lost or stolen art works. The Commission's database could become the first step toward the realization of the more comprehensive claims database it recommends below.

Finally, the Commission wishes to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of members of the staff. 6 Their dedication and hard work multiplied their talents as historians, policy analysts, diplomats and managers. Because of their unique work as a team, the Commission believes that the goal of expanding the world's knowledge and understanding of the role of the United States in its management of Holocaust-era assets has been well met. The Commission here thanks each of them for their efforts.

4 For a list of the activities of the Commission, see Appendix B.

5 Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, Hearing on Art and Cultural Property, New York, NY, April 12, 2000.

6 For a list of staff contributing to the Commission's work, see Appendix C.

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