The Nazis and their collaborators conducted widespread, systematic looting of artworks and personal property throughout Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror. Many of these works found their way to members of the international art community who eagerly looked the other way from dubious provenances. Lynn H. Nicholas, author of Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War, wrote “…the virtually total absence of conscience in the art world; museums, dealers and auction houses…think of a way to acquire a profit from these treasures, which they knew to be stolen. Here the art trade, the greatest unregulated industry in the world, is revealed in all its elegant corruption.” Members of the art trade behaved no better when dealing with valuables looted by Communists.


Communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe nationalized museums and works still hidden in storage from the Second World War. Throughout the many decades of totalitarian rule by the Soviets and Central-Eastern European Communists, artworks mysteriously disappeared from museums and were sold abroad to very willing purchasers. Gold reserves, museums, churches and private property were pillaged. Items were shipped to Russia as well as sold to foreigners. The Russians never returned many Estonian, Polish and Romanian treasures. In countries like Czechoslovakia, a “millionaire’s tax” was imposed on those whose properties had been nationalized or confiscated. The only way for them to pay this tax was to “sell” their valuables such as Persian rugs, paintings, sculptures and jewelry. East Germans were investigated and monitored by Stasi agents searching for valuable personal property to confiscate and sell for foreign currency. Cuban revolutionaries and Nicaraguan Sandinistas looted artworks and other valuables from their class and political enemies. Today the Cuban regime runs a forgery industry to sell fake artworks allegedly created by the artists whose originals were looted from their legitimate owners.


The recovery of movable property is difficult by virtue of its nature. Sometimes artwork and other valuables are located by chance. Historical owners and their heirs often conduct diligent research and still turn up empty-handed. Some options available to legitimate owners are supposed to prevent artworks reported as stolen or looted from being sold. There are also art detectives who specialize in tracking down stolen objects. One Cuban exile family family negotiated with a major auction house to flag any and all items that belonged to them before the Cuban Revolution. Those who possess looted artwork are generally reluctant to relinquish their acquisitions. The negotiations to return artworks can be lengthy and expensive. Those who knowingly buy and sell looted works are party to the thievery. The rightful owners who were deprived of these assets by totalitarian regimes ought to challenge the possessors of their property to the fullest extent possible.


Looted and Stolen Art


Art Loss Register

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Holocaust-era Assets

Hungary Looted Art

International League of Antiquarian Booksellers


Looted Art

Museum Security Network

National Stolen Art File (NSAF)

Objects Lost Due to World War II (Poland)



Art Galleries, Auction Houses and Museums


A.M.D.Y. Art

APPOLO Subastas


Blouin Artinfo

Brukenthal Museum

Centro Galego de Arte Contemporáneo

Cernuda Arte


Gary Nader Fine Art

Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno


Metropolitan Museum of Art Provenance Research Project

Michali Fine Art

Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias

Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia

Museo de Huelva

Museo Nacional del Prado

Museo Sorolla

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)

The Museum of Modern Art Provenance Research Project

Pan American Art Projects

Phillips de Pury & Company

Puccio Fine Art

Sky Gallery


The State Hermitage Museum

Torna & Prado Fine Art Collection


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum




American Association of Museums

Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA)

International Council of Museums (ICOM)

International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR)

Looted Art Commission

UNESCO Movable Heritage and Museums




Antiques Trade Gazette

The Art Bulletin

Art Media Agency


The Art Newspaper

ArtNexus Magazine

Arte y Parte

Cuban Art News

Journal of Art Crime

Journal of Property Rights in Transition

The Latin American Art Journal

Museum International


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