by Marc Masurovsky
Treasury Directive TD 51072 was passed on June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day, under sections 3(a) and 5(b) of the Trade with the Enemy Act. Its aim was to restrict the importation into the US of any art object with a value exceeding 5000 dollars or is of artistic, historic and scholarly interest irrespective of monetary value.” The method of restriction was sequestration of objects falling under the aegis of the Directive. The Roberts Commission was charged with reviewing the documentation accompanying these sequestered objects and either approving or refusing their release under a license issued by Treasury.
The directive applied to any art object that had changed hands since March 12, 1938, two days after the absorption of Austria into the German Reich, known as the Anschluss. In other words, any art object subjected to “internal plunder” from 1933 to 1938, was exempted de facto from the Directive.
Further exemptions to the TD weakened its impact upon enactment. For instance, objects imported from the United Kingdom and its dominions were exempted from TD 51072. Also, objects coming in from so-called neutral or non-belligerent countries were exempted from inspection at the US Border. However, importers were still required to file two separate forms, a TFE-1 (license to import) and FFC-168 (questionnaire) [FFC-Foreign Funds Control was the main investigative arm of the Treasury and the predecessor to the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the US Department of Treasury]. These forms were designed to shed light on the origin of the objects and the circumstances of their acquisition prior to their entry into the US.
The loophole created by the “artistic, historic or scholarly” value of the object meant that cultural objects viewed as “ordinary” might be allowed in without further ado. What the US authorities together with the museum professionals of the Roberts Commission did not realize is that the vast majority of art objects looted by the Axis fell under that category of “ordinariness.”
The impact of TD 51072 on cultural imports into the US was limited owing to these many exemptions. Also, the Roberts Commission worked hard to dilute its impact and eventually lobbied the Treasury to have the directive revoked on grounds that there was no evidence of loot entering the US. A note here: the Roberts commission would not have known how to identify a looted cultural or artistic object if if it was staring at them, as there were no exhaustive listings of what had been looted by the Axis at the time the Directive was enacted. The Roberts Commission succeeded in getting the TD 51072 revoked and, feeling that its work was done, voted itself out of existence in July 1946, confident that business as usual should resume post haste.