Date of Award

Summer 7-28-2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MA Museum Professions

Department

Communication and the Arts

Advisor

Martha Easton, Ph.D.

Keywords

Judaica, Holocaust, Museums, Halakha, Restitution, Registration

Abstract

Museum professionals are faced with many legal and ethical issues on a daily basis, many of which are rooted in the actions of people in the past. One of the largest issues discussed in our community over the last several decades stems from the mass looting of artwork across Europe by the Nazis during World War Two. While much attention has been given to the procedures and practices museums must go through in order to identify potential stolen works and return them to their rightful owners, Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were also ransacked by German soldiers and anything of perceived value was stolen. Countless works of Judaica, or Jewish ceremonial objects, and sacred texts were taken from communities and families alike. What has happened with these objects after that fall of the Third Reich, especially when the majority of the Jewish population that once owned these items never returned?

My thesis examines the underrepresented topic of looted Judaica from World War Two, particularly looking at its role in museum collections. I examine the actions taken after the war to redistribute heirless property to Jewish museums and institutions around the world and the ongoing international efforts and discussions on provenance research and restitution of these objects as new Jewish communities are forming across Europe. I also examine the issue of object care for looted Judaica from the Registrar’s or Collection Manager’s perspective, identifying special requirements for these objects under Jewish law. Through a series of three case studies, I explore the actual implementation of restitution and special care procedures in Jewish museum today in order to determine the current state of the field. Ultimately, I argue that Jewish institutions need to devote more time to developing restitution claim procedures and policies, while also reshaping their collection care guidelines to reflect, not only museum best practices, but also respect to Jewish tradition and law.

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