The database on the unrecovered works of art looted during the Second World War in Belgium

The database accessible on this website contains information on unrecovered works of art that have been looted from individuals and public institutions during the Second World War under occupation in Belgium.

Information on the works of art on this website is freely accessible.

The data were listed on the basis of the original declaration forms and other archive documents of the former Economic Recovery Service.

The Economic Recovery Service (DER)

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Economic Recovery Service (also known as DER) was set up in Belgium on 16 November 1944.

The DER was responsible for the detection, recuperation and restitution of movable property in Belgium or abroad that had disappeared from Belgian public or private ownership during the Second World War.

A unit was active within the DER, charged with the identification and restitution of looted art goods.

Declaration of lost art works during the Second World War

Anyone who had lost works of art during the Second World War or had information about them was obliged to report it to the DER.

The DER, which was actively charged with identifying and recovering looted works of art, used internal declaration forms to track down and recover looted works of art.

The DER's activity led to the recuperation of several hundred works of art, including highly valuable artistic objects in historical terms, such as the world-famous Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers (see the picture on the homepage: Exposition of the Ghent Altarpiece after its return to Belgium, around 1946).

It is true that a large proportion of the looted works of art could not be tracked down.

Creation of a database

After the dissolution of the DER, the declaration forms were kept at the FPS Economy, which officially transferred them to the General State Archives of Belgium in 2011.

The former declaration forms for the unrecovered art objects are an extremely valuable source for further historical and art-historical research.

They contain data on more than 2,800 objects, such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, furniture, textile art and, to a lesser extent, scientific instruments and archive documents.

The declaration forms and existing visual material were scanned into documents by the FPS Economy and a large proportion of the data mentioned was made accessible in a database.

A website unlocks the data

On this website, you can consult the data from the database in digitised form.

When moving the data on the declaration forms across to the database, an effort was made to display them as correctly as possible and they were interpreted where necessary.

The interpretation of some of the information on the declaration forms, such as sale, theft, confiscation, forced or voluntary sale does not always correspond to current knowledge.

When the database was created, no systematic check was carried out to ensure that the works of art were identical to those mentioned on the declaration forms either. Nor was there an investigation into whether there was any restoration of rights after the war.

The conclusion that the ownership of any object on this website was lost through robbery, forced sale, confiscation or any other form of loss should not always be drawn automatically.

Due to the absence of data within the existing archive material, it cannot be taken for granted that the ownership of the objects published on that website has been lost as a result of robbery, forced sale, confiscation or any other form of loss.

Nor can it be guaranteed that the data recorded on this website is complete and correct.

Incomplete or non-existent data have been indicated in the database with the abbreviation “n.a.” (not available).

The “B.A. number” which appears on numerous records of the looted art objects, is the number assigned by the former German post-war administration - the Bundesamt.

You cannot find the information you’re searching for on the website?

A limited number of declaration forms is possibly not published on this website.

If you are looking for information about a specific work of art that has not been published on the website, you can send a request for information to the “Cell for the recovery of goods looted during the Second World War in Belgium” at the FPS Economy.

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The website contains data collected by the  Economic Recovery Service and published by the FPS Economy.

The FPS Economy cannot be held responsible for the completeness or correctness of the published data.

No rights can be derived from the published data.