Paul Lazarsfeld Lecture: Return of the Repressed?

Jewish Cultural Brokers and the Restitution of Nazi-Era Looted Art with Elisabeth Becker-Topkara, University of Heidelberg

Do, 11.05.2023 I 17-19 Uhr I SR 3, Rooseveltplatz 2

The victimhood of European Jewry during the Holocaust has shaped the terrain of art restitution, driving both discourses and actions aimed at recuperating material losses. The 1951 Claims Conference, the 1998 Washington Conference, and other seminal agreements have called on nation-states, museums, and private collectors alike to streamline the restitution of Nazi-Era looted art. This talk turns away from narratives based exclusively in victimhood to the agency of contemporary Jewish cultural brokers—lawyers, diplomats, and art historians— to shape the transnational restitution field. I highlight the restitution case of Woman in Gold, the Adele Bloch Bauer painting by Gustav Klimt, displayed Vienna's Belvedere Gallery from the end of WWII until 2006, as a highly-visible emblem over this much broader struggle between states, institutions, and individuals, which is at the same time a struggle between memory and forgetting.

Drawing from interviews with Jewish restitution leaders in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, the UK, and the US involved in this case and numerous others, I emphasize the role of the children of those who fled or perished during the Holocaust. What emerges in these narratives is what I term the "return of the repressed": that is, both consciousness and behaviors oriented towards recollecting and piecing back together shattered histories. Through the voices of these contemporary Jewish cultural brokers, I develop a meaning-focused approach to understanding Nazi-era looted art restitution efforts: exposing the enduring linkages between lost and scattered objects and lost and scattered lives.

Time: Thurday, May 11th, 2023, 17.00-19.00
Venue: Seminarraum 3, Department of Sociology
Rooseveltplatz 2, 1090 Wien

Contact: Till Hilmar,