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Dutch State to Return Paintings from Goudstikker Collection to Heirs

Friday, 3 February, following the weekly meeting of the Dutch cabinet, the weekly Vrij Nederland published the following report on its website.

Goudstikker collection back to heirs
By Lucette ter Borg and Hella Rottenberg

The Goudstikker heirs are to get back most of the 267 paintings they claim from the Dutch state, which now owns them. This was decided on Friday at the ministerial council, Vrij Nederland was told by sources in the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of General Affairs.

Medy van der Laan, state secretary for culture, will send a letter to Parliament on Monday or Tuesday to announce the decision. Today and during the weekend officials of the ministries of culture and justice will be working on the letter, since the decision concerning the Goudstukker claim has to be furnished with revised justification. For this reason the announcement has been postponed.

Piet Hein Donner, Minister of Justice, had grave objections to the way in which van der Laan’s positive finding was formulated, according to spokesmen at the Ministry of Justice. Donner only gave his consent on condition that the restitution be granted "on other than legal grounds" – moral or ethical grounds, for example.

Donner wishes in no case to invalidate the 1999 rejection by the courts of the claim. If the government were now to approve the same claim with legal arguments, or arguments phrased in legal terms, this would undermine the court finding of 1999 in an unacceptable fashion, according to Donner. The minister expressed his objections during the ministerial council meeting of Friday, 3 February. A compromise was reached at the meeting, by which van der Laan’s positive disposition will be maintained, with a revised motivation.

On Thursday Donner discussed his objections with B. Asscher, chairman of the Advisory Committee for Restitution of Cultural and Second World War Property and former head of the Amsterdam court. After speaking to Asscher Donner spoke to van der Laan as well. Earlier in the week a preliminary discussion took place at which not only Donner and van der Laan but also Ministers Zalm of Finance and Van der Hoeven of Education, Culture and Science were present.

Since 2002 the Restitution Committee has issued 19 recommendations on the return of war art. The Committee applies lenient standards in judging the requests of Jewish families for the restitution of art stolen or lost in the war that after the war – on the basis of rules now considered debatable – became state property. To date, all the recommendations by the Committee have been adopted by Medy van der Laan. When the Restitution Committee was installed in 2002, it was agreed that the government would adopt all its recommendations, in order to avoid a situation in which the government would act as judge in a case to which it is a party. The issue involves the return of state property, after all.

This is the first time that a recommendation has met with objections or has been discussed by other ministries than the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. But because the Goudstikker claim is the largest and most important post-war art claim, the cabinet says, it must be considered with "extra care."


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