Sev­enty years after the end of World War II and the Holo­caust, the fate of plun­dered, hidden, or van­ished works of art during that time remains a strongly debated topic—one a panel of experts tackled Tuesday after­noon at North­eastern University’s 22nd annual Robert Salomon Morton Lecture.

The event, held at the vis­itor center, was part of North­eastern University’s Holo­caust Aware­ness Week, which is pre­sented by the Human­i­ties Center and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties in part­ner­ship with the Holo­caust Aware­ness Committee.

The title of the event dou­bled as a ques­tion pan­elists were chal­lenged with answering: “Mas­ter­pieces and Moral Jus­tice: Who is Heir to Plun­dered Art?” The panel com­prised Dou­glas Davidson, spe­cial envoy for Holo­caust issues at the U.S. Depart­ment of State; Wesley Fisher, director of research for the Con­fer­ence on Jewish Mate­rial Claims Against Ger­many; Marc Masurovsky, director of the Prove­nance Research Training Pro­gram of the Euro­pean Shoah Legacy Insti­tute; and Vic­toria Reed, curator for prove­nance at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Masurovsky asserted there are dif­ferent kinds of heirs and that no matter how much people want to avoid the legal debate, the des­ig­nated owner must be taken into account when deter­mining restitution.

It doesn’t mean that the people in what we call the prove­nance (own­er­ship his­tory) are the real, or his­toric, or actual owners, but rather who we refer to as cur­rent pos­ses­sors,” Masurovsky said. “That is what opens the can of worms.”

Davidson said the State Depart­ment has focused more atten­tion on these mat­ters of art resti­tu­tion in recent years. He noted that we might be entering a new era in which plun­dered art from this time will be found more in pri­vate col­lec­tions; he cited one instance from 2011 in which Bavarian tax author­i­ties dis­cov­ered of a cache of about 1,400 works of art in Munich apart­ment, many of which were con­fis­cated by the Nazis and were believed destroyed during World War II.

He noted that the 2013 film The Mon­u­ments Men, which fol­lows a WWII pla­toon tasked with res­cuing art stolen by the Nazis, has brought even more atten­tion to the issue.

We are entering uncharted ter­ri­to­ries,” Davidson said. “I think we will try to assist as best we can to work through this issue so paint­ings that were looted will be restored to the proper owners.”

Laurel Leff, chair of the Holo­caust Aware­ness Com­mittee and asso­ciate director of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies Pro­gram, mod­er­ated the event. Leff, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the School of Jour­nalism and the Stotsky Pro­fessor of Jewish His­tor­ical and Cul­tural Studies, com­mended the pan­elists for their exper­tise and com­mit­ment to the panel discussion’s topic—which she said was an impor­tant part of his­tory and one she was eager to see explored at this year’s event.

Fisher, for his part, focused his pre­sen­ta­tion on the global Jewish community’s role in resolving these mat­ters of own­er­ship. He said ques­tions about rightful own­er­ship of plun­dered objects must focus not only on high-​​end art works but also Jewish cer­e­mo­nial art or Judaica, par­tic­u­larly pieces that belonged to an entire com­mu­nity and not just one person or family.

In par­tic­ular with com­munal Judaica the issues are, in some respects, even more com­plex,” Fisher said. “This is a much broader matter.”

Later, Reed dis­cussed how a painting’s prove­nance could tell more about past owners than the painting itself. For example, she cited a 17th-​​century Dutch painting titled “Por­trait of a Man and Women in an Inte­rior,” which the MFA pur­chased in 1941.

Based on Reed’s research, it’s believed the piece was taken from German art dealer Walter Westfeld’s pos­ses­sion at some point between 1936 and 1941, as a result of per­se­cu­tion by the Nazis.

In this case, the prove­nance research yielded a lack of infor­ma­tion about the painting itself,” Reed said. “We learned a great deal about the life and career of Walter West­feld, and it was his story, not that of the story of the painting, that emerged. And his is the more impor­tant story that infuses the por­trait with a sig­nif­i­cance that goes beyond status symbol and the painting becomes a means of commemoration.”

Northeastern’s Holo­caust Aware­ness Com­mittee pub­licly remem­bers the Holo­caust every year, not only as his­tor­ical fact and a memo­rial to its mil­lions of vic­tims, but also as a warning that hor­rors of the past must never be repeated. The Morton Memo­rial Lec­ture was cre­ated as a way of memo­ri­al­izing the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and under­standing that Morton, long­time care­taker of the Hillel Foun­da­tion at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, embodied.