The Book—A Rare Volume turns out to be PRICELESS
We registered the book as Nazi loot. Not only works of art fall into this category, though so far these have been given preferential treatment. Books commonly bear traces of the owner and are therefore of particular importance to the descendants. Often a book is the only personal record of a lost childhood or adolescence. For us, books are like our present witnesses, voices from the past. In themselves inconspicuous, books can tell a story beyond what is printed on their pages. For many reasons, the sensitive and careful handling of looted objects, regardless of their material value, is essential. We cannot afford to overlook or ignore traces of the past whose unearthing may reveal what happened during the Nazi regime.
Fair and equitable resolutions to reparations claims have been possible since the Washington Conference of December 3, 1998, and, according to Edith, the Scheyers’ heirs received reasonable compensation in 2004 for the pharmacy, although not for the home, as the German government considered the full debt on the home paid on the basis of the 1964 settlement. Since the conference, other institutions such as libraries and museums have become more sensitive to the presence of Nazi loot.
But these institutions cannot bear the burdens of restitution alone. Individual choices also determine whether good intentions are fulfilled. People are still unwittingly acquiring Nazi loot and must not hesitate to question its provenance. It is not only an issue of stolen property, but of restorative justice and moral obligation. The clues are there if we will only be mindful not just of things but of people.
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