This glossary offers definitions of technical terms commonly used in the field of art provenance and restitution. It is also available as a PDF file at this link.
Allied Military Government, the governing body put in place to ensure public order and safety during the Allied occupation of Germany.
A coalition led by the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union formed in opposition to the Axis Powers.
A painting or relief representing a religious subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar of a church.
A small alpine Austrian village known at the end of World War II for the salt mines where large repositories of Nazi safeguarded and looted art were discovered by Allied forces and the Monuments Men.
American Defense, Harvard Group
American Defense, Harvard Group was organized by a small group of Harvard faculty members to alert Americans to the dangers posed by the Axis powers after the fall of France in June, 1940, and to marshal aid to American allies in Europe and Asia. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Group helped mobilize support for America's war effort.
The 1938 annexation of Austria into Germany by the Nazi regime.
The prejudice or hostility toward Jews as a group.
The use of an arbitrator (an independent person or body) to settle a dispute. A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, wherein the parties to a dispute refer it to one or more persons (the "arbitrators", "arbiters" or “arbitral tribunal”), by whose decision they agree to be bound. A number of Nazi-Era restitution claims have chosen Arbitration in order to determine the ownership of contested artwork.
An English word derived from the Sanskrit “Arya” meaning “noble” or “honorable.” In Europe, the concept of the Aryan race became influential in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and racial theorists believed in biologically distinct races. The term was taken up by the Nazis who classified the Aryan-Nordic race as the master race, versus the “Jewish-Semitic” race, which was seen as a threat to Germany’s Aryan civilization.
Literally, means to make “Aryan.” During the Third Reich, Jewish owned property was “aryanized”, thus it was handed over to German ownership.
A process of buying and selling goods by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder.
The largest Nazi concentration camp located in Poland, about 31 miles from Krakow. Auschwitz I was the original concentration camp which served as the administrative center for the entire complex and the site of the deaths of roughly 70,000 people, mostly Poles and Soviet prisoners of war. Auschwitz III (Monowitz) was a labor camp for the factory of the I.G. Farben company. See also Birkenau (Auschwitz II).
Slavkov u Brna (Czech name; German name: Austerlitz) is a country town east of Brno in the South Moravian Region of the Czech Republic. The town is widely known for giving its name to the Napoleonic Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 which actually took place some miles west of the town.
A coalition led by Germany, Italy, and Japan formed in opposition to the Allied Nations.
British Broadcasting Corporation.
A school, founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught. It operated from 1919 to 1933. The Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modern design which consisted of radically simplified forms, and rationality and functionality, combined with the notion that mass-production was easily integrated into the individual artistic spirit.
The Free State of Bavaria is a landlocked state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner.
Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was an extermination camp where at least 960,000 Jews, 75,000 Poles, and some 19,000 Gypsies (Roma) were killed. Birkenau was the largest of all the Nazi extermination camps. See also Auschwitz-Birkenau. (Roma is the more common European term for Gypsy.)
The German for "lighting war." A swift, sudden military attack using bomber aircraft to support fast moving tanks and motor vehicles.
The United States Committee of the Blue Shield was formed in 2006 in response to recent heritage catastrophes around the world. The name Blue Shield comes from the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which specifies a blue shield as the symbol for marking protected cultural property. The International Committee of the Blue Shield and its affiliated national committees work together as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict.
The military police for the Italian armed forces that also functions as the state police.
The country of estate of Herman Göring, the second in command under Hitler. It’s thought that his private art collection consisted of up to 50 percent of the art stolen by the Third Reich. Some of this collection was exhibited at Göring’s estate, before being evacuated to Berchtesgaden at the end of the war.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres), located in Chartres, France, about 50 miles from Paris, is considered one of the finest examples in all France of the Gothic style of architecture. Even before the early cathedral was built, Chartres was a pilgrimage site for the sick. Since the 12th century, the church has been a popular pilgrimage destination on the feast days of Blessed Virgin Mary in order to honor her cloak (Sancta Camisia).
Traitorous cooperation with the enemy.
The Collecting Points were established in a number of German cities by the Monuments Men after World War II. Confiscated and looted objects and artwork were gathered in these locations in order to research, catalogue and ascertain their ownership. The objects were then returned to the owners or the country of origin for restitution to the owners.
Physical or "tangible cultural heritage" includes buildings and historic places, monuments, artifacts, etc., that are considered worthy of preservation for the future. These include objects significant to the archaeology, architecture, science or technology of a specific culture.
A curator (or keeper) of a cultural heritage institution (e.g., archive, gallery, library, museum or garden) is a specialist responsible for an institution's collections (art, books, etc.)
A German Nazi concentration camp – the first one opened in Germany – located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria which is located in southern Germany. In total, over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries were housed in Dachau of whom two-thirds were political prisoners and nearly one-third were Jews. 25,613 prisoners are believed to have died in the camp.
Degenerate art is the English translation of the German term entartete Kunst, a term adopted by the Nazi regime to describe virtually all modern art, which was banned on the grounds that it was un-German or Jewish Bolshevist in nature. Degenerate Art was also the title of an exhibition, mounted by the Nazis in Munich in 1937, consisting of modernist artworks chaotically hung and accompanied by text labels deriding the art. The exhibition was designed to inflame public opinion against modernism. Modernist artists such as Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh were included in this group.
Deriving from the Latin word dux "leader", it National Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini.
A generic Italian term for a cathedral church. Such churches are usually referred to simply as "Il Duomo" or "The Duomo", without regard to the full proper name of the church. The word duomo derives from the Latin word “domus”, meaning house, as a cathedral is the "house of God", or domus Dei.
Dwight D Eisenhower
The Supreme Allied Commander and later President of the United States, General Eisenhower played a huge role in the success of the MFAA in Europe. He prohibited looting and billeting of artistically important material by Allied troops, and helped establish the collecting points that would shape the post-war restitution process.
ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg)
The Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Special Task Force Reich Minister Rosenberg) was organized under the direction of Alfred Rosenberg, specifically for the plunder of cultural property across Nazi-occupied territories.
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one's own culture. Ethnocentrism often entails the belief that one's own race or ethnic group is the most important and/or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups.
A social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention. This philosophy was incorporated into the racial policies of Nazi Germany where it was abused in their programs of racial hygiene, human experimentation, and the extermination of undesired population groups.
German term for homeland, used primarily in the Nazi era to refer to the state, often in a nationalist sense.
Name for the Boeing B-17, a four-engine heavy bomber the U.S. Army Air Forces flew during World War II.
Fresco (plural either frescos or frescoes) is any of several related painting types, done on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Italian word affresco which derives from the adjective fresco ("fresh").
In architecture the frieze is the wide central section of an entablature (the horizontal area above the columns) and may be plain or decorated with a low relief sculpture (bas-reliefs).
The “greatest museum in the world” ordered to be built by Hitler in his hometown of Linz. However the project was never realised. The drive to stock the museum with the greatest art in the world was undertaken by the ERR and the Sonderauftrag Linz. See: Linz.
The German word for leader and Hitler's self-appointed title.
A nickname given to U.S. Army soldiers during World War II.
The deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.
Abbreviation of Geheime Staatspolizei, Nazi Germany’s secret police.
“Good faith” is the honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or the desire to defraud another person. The term is applied to all kinds of transactions. See: Good Faith Purchasing
Good Faith Purchaser
(U.S. law vs. Napoleonic [European] law) – Good faith purchasers face different rules in the Western legal systems. American legal rules favor the owner of an object, while European law protects the good faith purchaser.
A series of fortifications 200 miles long that the Germans built into the northern range of Italy’s Appennines Mountains as a last line of defense against the Allied armies.
Also called the Winter Line, it was the first formidable German tripwire for the Allies in Italy, located at the skinniest part of the peninsula, south of Rome.
A series of international treaties that dictate the laws of war. These treaties were negotiated during two international peace conferences in 1899 and 1907.
State organization established in 1926 to educate young boys in the Nazi worldview and train them for eventual service in the armed forces.
A term generally used to describe the genocide of approximately six million European Jews (and also of Gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals and other "undesirable" groups) in Europe during World War II as part of the deliberate extermination planned and executed by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi) regime in Germany led by Adolf Hitler.
Originating from Sancta Sedes, Latin for “Holy Chair,” it is the authority of the pope in Rome to serve as the sovereign head of the Catholic Church.
An expression used in Nazi Germany to describe those of non-Aryan descent who were informally considered Aryan. This label was usually bestowed upon persons who were seen as valuable to the German economy or war effort. Some notable examples are Stephanie von Hohenlohe, a Jewish-Austrian princess, and the peoples of Japan, Finland, Hungary, and Turkey.
A 19th-century art movement that began in France in the 1870s characterized by a sketchy and impressionistic use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light. The name of the movement is thought to be derived from the title of a Claude Monet painting, Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant). Among the artists working in this style were: Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Pierre August Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne.
A Latin phrase meaning “in the place.” In archaeology, in situ refers to an artifact that has not been moved from its original place of deposition. This only means that the item was not newly moved. Thus, an item was discovered in one location, but many years prior could have been of foreign origin. In architecture, in situ means construction which is carried out on the building site.
Jeu de Paume
A French art museum, the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in the center of Paris. From 1940 to 1944 the Nazi looting organization ERR used the Jeu de Paume Museum as their central storage and sorting depot prior to distribution to various persons and places within Germany. The French art curator, Rose Valland, who was overseer at the museum during this time, began secretly recording as much information as possible on the more than 20,000 pieces of confiscated art brought to the Jeu de Paume Museum, aiding in its recovery at war’s end.
Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass
In response to the shooting of a German diplomat by a 17-year old Jewish youth who was enraged over his family’s expulsion, Nazi Germany began a systematic anti-Semitic reprisal. In the early hours of November 10, 1938, coordinated destruction broke out in cities, towns and villages throughout the Third Reich. On that night, 91 Jews were murdered, and 25,000–30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps; more than 200 synagogues were destroyed and tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were ransacked. This event was a turning point for the rest of the world in terms of its relationship with Nazi Germany.
A German term for the policy of preserving cultural objects during armed conflict. Those in opposition to Nazi Germany saw the policy as veiled looting.
The name given to Hitler's policy to provide extra "living space" for the German population by conquest of the lands of Eastern Europe and the USSR.
German for “habitat” or “living space,” served as a major motivation for Nazi Germany’s territorial aggression. Adolf Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf, detailed his belief that the German people needed Lebensraum (for a Greater Germany, land, and raw materials), and that it should be taken in the East. The eastern countries’ populations were to be exterminated and the land was to be used to create an agricultural surplus to feed Germany.
A city in northern central Austria on the Danube river. Adolf Hitler was born in the border town of Braunau am Inn but moved to Linz as a child and spent most of his youth there. Hitler had extensive architectural plans for Linz, and planned for it to be the main cultural center of the Third Reich. Linz was the intended site of Hitler’s Führermuseum which was planned to rival the best museums in Europe.
Looting, sacking, plundering, despoiling, or pillaging is the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory. Nazi looting refers to art theft and other items stolen as a result of the organized plunder of European countries during the time of the Third Reich by agents and organizations acting on behalf of the ruling Nazi Party of Germany. Some of the objects were earmarked for Hitler's never realized Führermuseum, some objects went to other high ranking officials such as Hermann Göring, while other objects were traded to fund Nazi activities.
The Nazi Airforce.
(Möbel-Aktion; translated as Furniture Campaign or Action) – The Nazi confiscation of all Jewish household items, the so-called M-Aktion, was implemented in 1940 to solve the dire shortage of such items within Germany.
MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives)
The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies was established in 1943 to assist in the protection and restitution of artistic and cultural property in war areas during and following World War II. This group of over 350 men and women joined military forces to protect historic and cultural monuments from war damage and as the war came to a close, worked to locate and return works of art and other items of cultural importance which had been stolen by the Nazis or hidden for safekeeping. They were more commonly referred to as “Monuments Men” and, on occasion, as “Venus fixers.”
Term used to denote a section of the media specifically envisioned and designed to reach a very large audience such as the population of a nation state. Nazi Germany utilized highly effective mass media -- through posters, radio, films, etc. – to spread propaganda within Germany as well as in the occupied countries.
(Translation: My Struggle (or) My Battle). Adolf Hitler’s autobiography combined with his National Socialist political ideology which outlines his anti-Semitism and plans for a Greater Germany and the Aryan race. After his rise to power, the book became the Nazi guidebook.
A mezuzah is a piece of parchment (usually contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah. These verses comprise the Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael,” and begins with the phrase "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One." A mezuzah is affixed to the doorframe of Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema "on the doorposts of your house."(Deuteronomy 6:9)
A Benedictine Abbey built in 529 AD, it’s destruction became emblematic of the discourse over whether saving art was more important than saving human lives. Bombed by the Allies in 1944, the images resonated around the world. See: Gustav Line
Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art
The foundation was established to preserve the legacy of the unprecedented and heroic work of the men and women who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (“MFAA”) section, known as “Monuments Men,” during World War II, by raising public awareness of the importance of protecting and safeguarding civilization’s most important artistic and cultural treasures from armed conflict, while incorporating these expressions of man's greatest creative achievements into our daily lives.
A mural is a painting on a wall, ceiling, or other large permanent surface.
National Humanities Medal
It's an American award that annually recognizes several individuals, groups, or institutions for work that has "deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities."
National Socialist Party
The Nazi Party, officially the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (in German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei - NSDAP) was a political party in Germany between 1919 and 1945. The party’s leader was Adolf Hitler who was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later established the totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich.
Common term for the political ideology of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which governed Germany from 1933 to 1945. Defined by extreme racism and authoritarian views.
A Romanesque Revival castle in southern Germany, built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. In 1944 it was discovered as the hiding place of thousands of works of art stolen by the Nazi regime, as well as thousands more record cards of their plunder. There archives would become invaluable to restitution efforts after the war had ended.
Nisei is a Japanese term for children born to Japanese parents in a new country and are considered the second generation. During World War II, Japanese Americans were interned in camps for fear they would be loyal to Japan. However, many American Nisei served in World War II for the U.S., serving as linguists or military troops in defense of their country. The Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team fighting in the European theater became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service.
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were denaturalization laws passed in Nazi Germany and used as a basis for racial discrimination against the Jewish people. The laws classified people as either German or Jewish depending upon their ancestors. For instance, one could be classified as “German” if all four of their grandparents were of “German blood”; one was classified as Jewish if they were descended from 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents. A chart was published with the laws which illustrated all of the classifications. The first law – The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between “Jews” and “Germans.” It also prohibited the employment of a “German” female under the age of 45 in Jewish households. The second law – The Reich Citizenship Law – stripped all persons not of “German” blood of their German citizenship and rights.
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of trials most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the German Nazi leadership after its defeat in World War II. The trials were held in Nuremberg, Germany from 1945 to 1949 in the Palace of Justice. In all there were twelve trials. The most prominent, the Trial of the Major War Criminals began on 14 November 1945 to 1 October 1946 and resulted in the execution of the defendants including Hermann Goering, Alfred Rosenberg, Wilhelm Keitel and Hans Frank.
Olive drab, the color of the standard uniform for U.S. GIs and military vehicles during World War II.
National artistic patrimony refers to those objects which a nation designates as objects of cultural interest which contribute to the present identity of a people or nation.
The deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
Provenance, from the French provenir, means the origin or the source of an item, or the history of the ownership or location of an object, especially a work or art.
Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a college-based officer commissioning program. The courses focus on leadership development, problem solving, strategic planning and professional ethics.
The German term Rassenhygiene included not only the notion of improving the hereditary quality of the population (i.e. pure “German blood” or Aryan), but also was aimed at increasing the population as well.
The Renaissance, meaning “rebirth”, was a cultural movement - a revival of learning based on classical sources – that spanned the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the late Middle Ages and later spreading throughout Europe, influencing art, literature, philosophy, politics, science and religion.
Reparations refer to monetary compensation intended to cover damage; War reparations refer to the monetary compensation, or goods changing hands, intended to cover damage or injury during a war.
A place where objects or specimens are stored and maintained for future retrieval. During World War II, German officials placed art objects in repositories inside bunkers and underground mines such as Heilbronn, Merkers and Alt Aussee mines, for safekeeping.
The return or restoration of property to its rightful owner.
Region in western Germany along both banks of the Rhine River.
A flat, rectangular deck with outboard engines used to ferry troops and equipment short distances.
The Roberts Commission, formally known as The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, was created by President Roosevelt in 1943 to help the U.S. Army protect works of cultural value in Allied occupied areas in Europe. The commission suggested the establishment of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) and together they worked to rescue and preserve Europe’s cultural treasures during and after World War II.
In German, Schutzstaffel (“protection detachment”), the elite German paramilitary unit. Originally formed as a unit to serve as Hitler’s personal bodyguards, the S.S. grew and took on the duties of an elite military force. During WWII, the Nazi regime used the S.S. to handle the extermination of Jews and other racial minorities. The S.S. had its own army, independent of the regular German army called the Waffen - S.S.
Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, exercised command over the armed forces of eleven nations that contributed men and materiel to operations against Nazi Germany.
A propaganda technique that has been used throughout history as a means for people to move blame and responsibility away from themselves by attributing it to others. The most famous example of this in modern history is the singling out in Nazi propaganda of the Jew as the source of Germany’s post-World War I economic woes and political collapse.
Slang term for gossip.
Sfumato in Italian means “smoky”; it is an Italian term for a painting technique which overlays translucent layers of color to create perceptions of depth, volume and form. The colors or tones blend so subtly that there is no visible transition. Leonardo da Vinci described sfumato as “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane.”
The Yiddish term for a small town with a large Jewish population in pre-Holocaust Central and Eastern Europe. The concept of shtetl culture is used as a metaphor for the traditional way of life of 19th century Eastern European Jews. The Holocaust saw the disappearance of the vast majority of shtetls through extermination and mass exodus.
Looting, Plundering, Pillaging; the act of plundering, especially in times of war. See Looting.
A generalization about a person or group of persons. Stereotypes can instigate prejudice and false assumptions about entire groups of people, such as in the case of Nazi Germany against the Jewish population.