2003: Provenance Research and Restitution
In 2003, the Austrian National Library was the first federal institution to submit its comprehensive provenance report as provided for by the 1998 Art Restitution Act. The report contained a list of all of the objects still held by the library that were stolen during the NS era. In-depth research had been conducted into the entire questionable holdings on the basis of available documents and autopsies carried out in the repositories. Despite numerous items returned immediately after the end of the war, more than 52,000 unlawfully acquired objects were identified. Since December 2003 it has been possible to return altogether 46,866 objects to their legitimate owners. According to the current state of research, however, about one third of the divested objects can be regarded as “heirless”.
In June 2010, the first and largest portion of these heirless books (8,363 individual volumes) was transferred to the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism in compliance with the provisions of the Art Restitution Act; in a subsequent step, these books were then repurchased at usual market prices that had been determined by an external appraiser.
Moreover, the Austrian National Library addressed the theme publicly in its exhibitions, such as “Looted Books. The Austrian National Library Confronts Its Nazi Past” (2004/5) and “Memories of More Beautiful Times: Images from the Perished World of the Jewish Collector Raoul Korty” (2008). In 2006, a comprehensive academic study on the institution’s NS history was published on the Austrian National Library’s initiative: Murray G. Hall and Christina Köstner: “… Allerlei für die Nationalbibliothek zu ergattern …” Eine österreichische Institution in der NS-Zeit. Vienna: Böhlau 2006.