Nazis' looted art 'should not automatically be returned'

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Despite being the child of Jewish refugees, Sir Norman said he thought "history is history" and descendants "distanced by two or more generations" from the works' original owners did not have an "inalienable right" to reclaim their forbearers' property.

Writing in The Art Newspaper, Sir Norman said an agreement reached in Washington, DC, in 1998 - that committed 44 countries to try to return looted art to the owners or their descendants - should be revisited.

He wrote: "This process has been ongoing for 10 years and the items in question have often been claimed by people distanced by two or more generations from their original owners.

"I believe history is history and that you can't turn the clock back or make things good again through art. Ever since the beginning of recorded history, because of its value, art has been looted and as a result, arbitrarily distributed and disseminated throughout the world."
He went on: "Of course, what happened in the Nazi period was unspeakable in its awfulness. I lost many relatives whom I never knew personally, and who died in concentration camps in the most horrible of circumstances. But I believe grandchildren or distant relations of people who had works of art or property taken by the Nazis do not now have an inalienable right to ownership, at the beginning of the century."

In April 2000 a Spoliation Advisory Panel was set up by the government to advise on the process of reuniting art looted by the Nazis with its rightful owners or their descendents...

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