Volume 109

Art and Copyright in Ghettos and Concentration Camps: A Manifesto of Third-Generation Holocaust Survivors

by Lior Zemer & Anat Lior

Copyright ownership in works of art, drama, music, and literature, created by Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and ghettos, is one of the few debates omitted from academic legal research to date. These works expose the untold stories of the final moments of those who walked or labored to their deaths. Most of these works do not have names, but they do have authors. 

Theaters, artists, authors, orchestras, and other groups of creative individuals formed an integral part of the otherwise horrific environments surrounding prisoners in the ghettos. The absence of a global debate on their property rights in their works has created an anomaly that permits public bodies and other repositories of these works, such as libraries in Germany, the Auschwitz–Birkenau Museum, and other European and international museums, to claim ownership of these works and patronize the social and cultural life that they depict. Copyright laws protect and incentivize the use of creative voices in a manner that is mutually beneficial to creators and communities of listeners. The voices of Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps and ghettos have been continuously silenced from the moment those prisoners were deprived of their rights and murdered to today—when their works have yet to receive rightful protection. Copyright law has failed its main purpose of freeing knowledge from illegitimate shelters and allowing lessons to be gleaned from history that cannot otherwise be expressed. 

Literature dealing with looted works of arts, stolen during the Nazi occupation from Jewish families forced to leave behind their homes and histories, covers only one subset of what should be a larger discourse on copyright and the Holocaust. This Article opens new ground by exploring and answering questions about the ownership of creative expressions made within the ghettos during the most inhumane and barbaric moment of human history. We aim to remedy the blind focus given to looted art and the lack of awareness regarding art in the ghettos. We have the audacity to open a provocative debate on who should have moral rights in works of art, music, drama, and authorship that were created within the boundaries of concentration camps and ghettos across Europe before and during the Holocaust. This debate has no comparable example in human history. Most authors and artists of these works were murdered in gas chambers, ghettos, and labor camps. These works documented Nazi atrocities, but they also shed light on the cultural life of those who could not change their fate. Legal scholarship has never debated ownership of these works and the perplexing questions implied by such a debate. In this Article, we aim to start the conversation, not to close it. The Article offers the first inquiry challeng-ing the ownership paradigm of copyrighted works created within the ghettos and concertation camps in Nazi-occupied territories. The uncomfortable findings of our legal examination are based on sensitive human issues and legal controversies, which were given insufficient scholarly attention for over seven decades. This is the most difficult Article we have ever written and will ever write. This Article is our manifesto—a manifesto written by third-generation Holocaust survivors. 

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