Matthias Weller (Bonn): Just and Fair Solutions? – Fundamentals of a Restitution Culture for Artworks Confiscated During Nazi Persecution


The Nazi regime was obsessed with art. Hitler, Göring and others built up their own “collections” and looted works of art they were interested in from everyone and everywhere, very often from persecuted persons, especially Jews. Many persecuted persons had to leave their property behind or had to sell it under duress. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of artworks in Europe were looted. Despite efforts for restitution after the war, up to an estimated 100.000 objects had remained in the hands of others than the original owners or their heirs. On 3 December 1998, 44 States, including the Federal Republic of Germany, agreed on the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. These principles are soft law, and they call on the participating states to identify works of art that were confiscated by the Nazi regime and to find “just and fair solutions” for them. In five of the 44 states, commissions such as the German Advisory Commission on the return of cultural property seized as a result of Nazi persecution, especially Jewish property (“Beratende Kommission im Zusammenhang mit der Rückgabe NS-verfolgungsbedingt entzogenen Kulturguts, insbesondere aus jüdischem Besitz”) were established. Since 1998, thousands of recommendations and decisions on just and fair solutions were issued. Nevertheless, the entire process has remained strongly controversial. It is the thesis of the presentation that certain fundamentals are neglected in this process – fundamentals that must be observed in order to generate chances for “justice” and thus reconciliation. These fundamentals may form a basis of a “restitution culture” for artworks confiscated during Nazi persecution.

Prof. Dr. Matthias Weller

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Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Dr. Matthias Weller studied Law at the University of Heidelberg and at the University of Cambridge (UK) from 1992 to 1998. Subsequently, he completed his second German state examination as well as a degree in Administrative Sciences (Magister rerum publicarum) in Speyer. He then worked as a research assistant at the Institute for International and Foreign Private and Commercial Law at the University of Heidelberg, as a lawyer at a leading law firm in Frankfurt am Main, and as a Joseph Story Research Fellow at Harvard Law School. In 2005, Matthias Weller obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on Ordre-public-Kontrolle internationaler Gerichtsstandsvereinbarungen im autonomen Zuständigkeitsrecht. His work was sponsored by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and also supported by the Rolf and Lucia Serick Prize and the Klaus O. Fleck Prize (Rhine-Neckar Chamber of Commerce). From 2008 to 2009, Matthias Weller worked as a research assistant on more than 100 revision cases at the German Federal Supreme Court. Following his habilitation in 2011, he was appointed as Chair of Civil Law, Civil Procedure Law, and Private International Law at EBS Law School in Wiesbaden. There, Prof. Dr. Weller has also served as Vice Dean, Academic Director for the EBS Law Term, and Founder of the Transnational Commercial Dispute Resolution Research Center. Since 2018, he has held the recently founded Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Professorship for Civil Law, Art, and Cultural Property Law at the University of Bonn. Furthermore, he is Director of the Institute for German and International Civil Procedure Law and Conflict Management. In April 2019, Matthias Weller started the five-year comparative law research project Restatement of Restitution Rules for Nazi-Confiscated Art, which is funded by the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Prof. Dr. Weller’s research interests include private law, private international law, international civil procedure law, arbitration, transnational business law, and cultural property law. A particular focus of his research is the intersection of art and cultural property law. In 2005, Matthais Weller and a colleague founded the Institute for Art and Law IFKUR e.V., the first institute in Germany dedicated to this intersection. Matthias Weller served on the Institute’s board until 2020.

Since April 2021, Prof. Dr. Matthias Weller has been a Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” in Bonn.