[I]f you believe in art, you like art, you think people should see art, and you like your museums, you ought to be for this bill.
– Representative Steve Cohen
The Nazis stole roughly 600,000 pieces of art from 1933 to 1945, both from museums and individuals, valued at an estimated $20,500,000,000. The “Nazi art confiscation program” is said to have been “the greatest displacement of art in human history.” Following World War II, the Allied forces attempted to recover and return the looted artworks to their respective country of origin. European countries enacted laws to return those works to their rightful owners. However, many works went unclaimed and were later deposited with national museums. Many Nazi-looted artworks have since been found in museums, art galleries, and private collections all over the world. As a result, Nazi-looted artworks have been lent to museums in the United States for exhibits and shows.
Nazi-looted art, though the most publicly recognized, is not the only example of systemic looting of art and cultural property. It occurs worldwide, affecting many nations, particularly those prone to war. Most recently, the militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (“ISIS”), has destroyed and looted numerous ancient sites in what is being called “the largest-scale mass destruction of cultural heritage since the Second World War.” The plundering and trafficking of antiquities is estimated to produce a profit of $7,000,000,000 and, in the case of organizations like ISIS, that money is being used to fund terrorism. Additionally, it is estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 works of art are stolen each year worldwide. Due to the unregulated nature of the art business, the true provenance of artworks often goes unnoticed, making looted and stolen works easy to sell. Through black market channels, many of these cultural objects also find their way into museums and private collections.