It became known relatively early on in the Second World War that the Nazis were shipping large quantities of valuable property, including art treasures, from the occupied territories to Germany. The Dutch government in exile in London attempted to prevent this economic plundering and enacted emergency laws, which forbade all transactions with the enemy and pre-emptively declared all such transactions null and void. It also signed the Inter-Allied Declaration on 5 January 1943.
Raad voor het Rechtsherstel (Council for the Restoration of Rights)
After the liberation, the Raad voor het Rechtsherstel (Council for the Restoration of Rights) was established in August 1945 and charged with the task of restoring the pre-war legal order as far as possible. They were granted the authority to intervene in legal relationships under civil law, including property transactions, the general rule being that a judge could decide whether, given “the special circumstances”, it would be reasonable to void a transaction. Emergency legislation enacted in London formed the basis for the restitution of property. The Council comprised a legal department, to which claims could be submitted until 1 July 1951. It also heard appeals against decisions by restoration of rights bodies.
Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit, or SNK (Netherlands Art Property Foundation)
In 1945, the government established the Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit, or SNK (Netherlands Art Property Foundation). Initially, the SNK focused primarily on the recovery of art collections, fuelled by concern regarding the large losses of items of cultural interest incurred by the Netherlands. Many works of art eventually found their way back to the country after the war as a result of the foundation’s work. Alongside these recovery tasks, the SNK was charged with the restitution of cultural goods to their previous owners or their heirs, under the supervision of the Nederlandse Beheersinstituut or NBI (Netherlands Property Administration Institute). In 1949 and 1950 the SNK organised three exhibitions of recovered items in order to provide individuals with the opportunity to retrieve their works of art. In addition the SNK actively traced former owners, especially after 1948. Some of the property not returned was auctioned, with the proceeds going to the State.
After the SNK was embroiled in scandals, the tasks of the foundation were transferred to the Bureau Herstelbetalings- en Recuperatiegoederen, or Hergo (Bureau for Restoration Payments and the Restoration of Property) in the Ministry of Finance in 1950. This agency was abolished in the 1950s after the deadline for submitting claims for restitution lapsed. The difficult period of art restitution appeared to have ended.
The recovered works of art that remained in the custody of the State are currently known as the Nederlands Kunstbezit-collectie or NK-collectie (Netherlands Art Property Collection, or NK-
collection). This collection is part of the Dutch National Art Collection and is administered by the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed or RCE (Cultural Heritage Agency) of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The NK- collection, which nowadays contains over 3,800 items, consists of paintings, drawings, prints, ceramics, silver, furniture, carpets, tapestries and other special items. Some objects are in museums and government institutions in the Netherlands and abroad, while others are in storage.