NY Assembly Bill A3719A: Identifying Art Stolen During the Holocaust

Brendan Goldberg

When I think of art from the Holocaust, I think of pieces like Bedřich Fritta’s Rear Entrance, a work that finds its viewer in a web of silent, yet overpowering despair. In the piece, a lone gate at the rear entrance of the Theresienstadt Ghetto leads one down a path of sorrow, arriving at the inescapable realization of the hidden atrocities that lay only feet inside.[1] It tells a story. However, there is another category of art associated with the Holocaust; those pieces that were stolen from families, the majority of which were Jewish, during the Nazi’s reign.

In August of 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed Assembly Bill A3719A into law, requiring museums “to post a notice with the display of any art stolen during the Nazi era in Europe.”[2] According to the Associated Press, “at least 600,000 pieces of art were looted from Jewish people before and during World War II,” and many of those pieces have made their way into museums throughout the world.[3] Just at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) in New York City, 53 pieces on display have been identified as “having been seized or sold under duress during the Nazi era,” meaning this new legislation will have a cognizable effect.[4]

By enacting the law, Governor Hochul, with the support of New York Senator Anna Kaplan, expressed their important commitment to educating future generations on the atrocities of the Holocaust. “We owe it to them, their families, and the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust to honour their memories and ensure future generations understand the horrors of this era.” [5] However, even with these important intentions, I worry that the legislation may be focusing too much on the art itself, instead of the true horrors endured by those victims whom the art was stolen from.

Unlike Fritta’s Rear Entrance, the vast majority of artwork potentially implicated by this law, such as Picasso’s The Actor displayed in The Met, does not actually portray or describe the horrors of the Holocaust.[6] As a result, simply labeling the artwork as having been stolen during the Nazi era, without providing further context about who it was stolen from, would do little to educate those viewing the piece about the atrocities endured by so many. To the victims of the Holocaust, the theft of their art is only one small piece that barely begins to scratch the surface of a much greater tragedy. Thus, I hope that museums view this new legislation as an opportunity to take a true initiative to tell the whole story, not just of the artwork’s journey, but of the victims attached to the piece. While the legislation serves as a starting point, there is so much more to be done in keeping the memories of those who perished with us and future generations.


[1] Yad Vashem, Bedrich Fritta (Friedrich Taussig) (1906-1944) https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/art/fritta.asp [https://perma.cc/88U2-3HYV] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221011020430/https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/art/fritta.asp] (last visited Oct. 11, 2022).

[2] S. Assemb. 3719A, 2021 Leg., Reg. Sess. (N.Y. 2021). https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/A3719 [https://perma.cc/8KTX-XMW2] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221011020748/https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2021/A3719].

[3] Maysoon Khan, New York Museums to Disclose Artwork Looted by Nazis, AP News (Sept. 16, 2022), https://apnews.com/article/travel-new-york-9b364ebf2b8b2ef7b68d7d971675218f [https://perma.cc/L73A- 9DKQ] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221011021457/https://apnews.com/article/travel-new-york-9b364ebf2b8b2ef7b68d7d971675218f].

[4] Id.

[5] Andrea Blanco, New York Museums to Display Signs Identifying Art Looted by the Nazis During Holocaust, Independent (Sept. 16, 2022), https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/new-york-museums-looted-art-nazis-b2169037.html [https://perma.cc/7ZBD-DMWP] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221004164517/https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/new-york-museums-looted-art-nazis-b2169037.html].

[6] Maysoon Khan, New York Museums to Disclose Artwork Looted by Nazis, AP News (Sept. 16, 2022), https://apnews.com/article/travel-new-york-9b364ebf2b8b2ef7b68d7d971675218f [https://perma.cc/L73A- 9DKQ] [https://web.archive.org/web/20221011021457/https://apnews.com/article/travel-new-york-9b364ebf2b8b2ef7b68d7d971675218f].