The Holocaust, Museum Ethics and Legalism
Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice, Vol. 18, pp. 1-43, 2008
43 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2008 Last revised: 19 Jan 2009
Date Written: 2008
May need to go to this link to download: http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1328557. The Holocaust art movement has led to significant and controversial restitutions from museums. This article focuses on two emotionally driven claims to recover a suitcase stolen from a murdered man and watercolors a woman was forced to paint for Josef Mengele to document his pseudo-scientific theories of racial inferiority and his cruel medical experiments. Both claims are asserted against the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, and the museum has refused to return the objects. These claims provide insightful case studies to examine the emotional and ethical aspects of such disputes. Drawing from a number of disciplines, this article demonstrates the inadequacy of the dominant frameworks influencing the cultural property field, which are grounded in property law, morality and utilitarianism, for evaluating the Holocaust-related claims. This article also demonstrates that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Code of Ethics provides a useful construct for evaluating the claims. ICOM Principle 6.7, which calls on museums to promote well-being, should be the guiding light for museums deciding whether to return Holocaust-related objects. The article concludes that the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum's refusal to return the objects is faulty ethically, counter to its mission, and reflective of the inadequacy of Poland's approach to post-war restitution.
Keywords: Nazi, Holocaust, WWII, World War II, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Museum, Jew, Jewish, Jews, Mengele, Poland, Restitution, Reparation, Moral, Morality, Ethics, Ethical, Cultural Property, Culture, Cultural, Utilitarian, Merryman, ICOM, International Council of Museums, Polish
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