The primary task of the supervisory committee: Origins Unknown, usually designated as the Ekkart Committee, is to instigate investigations into the provenance of what is known as the NK collection, which consists of the works of art repatriated from Germany after World War II that are still in the custody of the State. In addition, the committee has been assigned the task of investigating the working methods of the Netherlands Art Property Foundation ( abbreviated as "SNK") which in the years 1945-1952 was responsible for the recovery and restitution of works of art; and the task of making recommendations to the Dutch government, based on the insights gained by the research, for the policy to be pursued on the restitution of works of art of the NK collection.
The investigations into the provenance of the individual works of art were initiated in September 1998. Research is carried out under the substantive responsibility of the Committee by the project bureau Origins Unknown, which comes under the jurisdiction of Cultural Heritage Inspectorate. In the mean time two subreports (dated October 1999 and October 2000) have been published, recording the traced provenance information of approximately 1000 items. As from the end of April 2001 the information contained in the subreports will also be available on the Internet in two languages. The provenance research will be completed in the autumn of 2002. The historical inquiry into the SNK, carried out by two researchers of the same project bureau, has also been taken in hand and will be completed in the autumn of 2001.
Initially, the intention was to include the restitution policy recommendations to the government in the Committee's final report, which is expected in the fourth quarter of 2002 after the completion of the provenance investigations. The Committee believes, however, that it is extremely desirable to speed up the restitution policy advisory process, provided that this does not harm the carefulness with which the process is carried out. The Committee is confirmed in its view by the concern, appearing from the questions asked by several parliamentary parties in February of this year, that the restitution process will be seriously hampered if a revised restitution policy is too long in forthcoming. In spite of the fact that the investigations into the provenance of the works of art of the NK collection are still in full progress, as is the historical inquiry into the working method of the SNK that is partially based on these investigations, the Committee has decided to submit part of its recommendations ahead of its final report and to bring forward its report on those interrelated aspects of the restitution policy that have already been sufficiently clarified by the research done so far. This phased presentation of recommendations is aimed at giving the government the opportunity to adopt a new policy for immediate implementation, allowing at least part of the restitution cases to be settled in the near future based on the wider criterions which are considered advisable.
It is true that at the present stage of the investigations it is not yet feasible to present balanced and unambiguous policy recommendations regarding certain elements of the restitution policy, for instance with respect to the Jewish art shops that were placed under the supervision of Verwalters; yet thanks to the work done so far we now do have a clear picture of the policies to be followed with respect to private Jewish art property which got out of the owners' possession during the war years. Since the Ekkart Committee holds the opinion that precisely this aspect is a matter of the greatest urgency, this first set of its recommendations is devoted to this aspect. The designation private art property is used here to include all art works owned for non-commercial purposes, whether held as purely private property or with legal title vested in the collector's family business.
We state emphatically that the fact that we are not yet making any recommendations about other aspects must not have the effect of postponing decisions on cases which already qualify for restitution under the policy that has been followed so far by the government, as set forth in the letter dated 14 July 2000 from the State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science to the Speaker of the Lower Chamber of Parliament. It is only in the case of claims belonging to a category on which the Committee has not yet made any recommendations and falling outside the scope of the restitution policy currently followed by the government, that it may be advisable for the State Secretary to defer his decision until a revised policy has been adopted in respect of the category in question as well. This applies in particular, therefore, to claims concerning works of art sold in the war years by Jewish art dealers.