Records of the State Archive in Belgium Relating to Nazi-Era Cultural Property
On 16 November 1944, shortly after the liberation of the Belgian national territory, the Belgian authorities set up the Department for Economic Recovery (DER)/Office de Récupération Economique (ORE) under the former Ministry of Economic Affairs. From its creation until its dissolution in 1968, the DER was the sole Belgian office responsible for tracing, recovering and liquidating lost movable goods of Belgian private or public possession in Belgium or abroad during the Second World War. As such, the DER was assigned with the tracing of enemy military equipment and responsible for war reparations by means of industrial compensations in kind, as well as the recovery and restitution of Belgian properties, including cultural goods. In light of the latter task, the DER included a culture office that was commissioned to identify and restitute stolen works of art. This resulted in the creation of various interesting record series on stolen artworks, including declaration forms, various files, file cards and a collection of photographs and glass negatives. The State Archives in Belgium conserve the "General Files" of the post-World War II service for the recovery of artworks, which was part of the DER. These records, which can be found under inventory numbers 362-632, are primarily in French and/or Dutch, and include a few records in English.
The documents on the registration and recovery of looted art, which constitute a specific section within the "General Files," were digitized in 2012. The digital images have been linked to the existing inventory descriptions, which are currently available on the State Archives' intranet. Researchers are required to inform the personnel of the National Archives (the State Archives' repository in the Brussels region) in advance and direct their inquiries before an appointment in the reading room can be made. Instructions for making such arrangements can be found online.
Apart from its General Files, the DER also opened files about individual recovery claims that were handled. These files form a distinct archival fond of 120 linear metres, comprising two series dating from the 1940s to the early 1960s. The files concerning individual recovery claims from the DER have also been inventoried (this search instrument has been incorporated in the sub-series "National Archives of Belgium," as inventory I 400). The inventory is not accessible online yet, but even so, all research for individual names must be performed via the former institute's alphabetical file card system (sorted according to the family names of all persons who made claims). Such preliminary research must be performed by the personnel working at the National Archives of Belgium 2 ("Cuvelier repository"). In practice, requests for information are to be directed here.
Because of the fact that all DER files about persons who also filed a claim at the Office for War Damage (Administration Dommages de Guerre) were transferred to the latter administration, the very voluminous archives from the Office for War Damage (under the authority of the former Minister for Reconstruction, later Public Works) will undoubtedly contain more information on looted or lost artworks. Handling of the reparation claims for material damage incurred to private goods led to the creation of a huge file series, 10 kilometres of which has been conserved. Access to the file series of the Office for War Damage requires navigating through a complex record card system. Since the archives consist of a central series as well as nine provincial series, one can perform a double search based on the geographical location of the property or the former owner's residence (for each separate province, the file cards are alphabetically classified by town/municipality). Each file card contains a unique reference number pointing to a file. All preliminary research must be performed by the personnel working at the National Archives of Belgium 2 ("Cuvelier repository"). Requests for information are therefore to be directed here.
For more information about the State Archives in Belgium, please visit the State Archives in Belgium website.
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