United States: Return Sales Of Looted Art To Nazis And Their Families Prompt Government Investigation In Bavaria

Last Updated: July 18 2016
Article by Lisa A. Karczewski

On the heels of a shocking report last month that artworks stolen from Holocaust victims were returned to Nazis and their families after World War II, the Bavarian Parliament art committee, Kunstausschuss, has demanded an accounting from government officials on the extent of the system to resell art to Nazi families and a count of the total number of looted artworks that remain in government possession that could be returned to the rightful heirs.

The findings were released by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, a London-based non-profit that researched the archives for certain rightful heirs and made critical discoveries.  Among other information released, in some instances, artworks were sold at significantly lowered prices to the families of Nazi officials instead of being restituted to the rightful heirs.  In other instances, the artworks were kept by the state of Bavaria.  The study reveals that state-owned museums in Munich profited from art looted by the Nazis at least until the 1990s.

In a statement, the Commission's co-chair Anne Webber said:  "The investigation must include clarification of the provenance of the artworks so that the rightful owners of any works that were looted can be identified and assured of restitution or compensatory justice."  Webber further added that the Bavarian government "must also ensure that all documents from the State Paintings Collection and other relevant government bodies are published and made fully accessible."

The Commission had also announced the immediate resolution of the restitution claim that had initially led to the larger investigative probe.  The Commission's investigation was prompted after the rightful heirs of collectors Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus, who were trying to recover about 160 artworks stolen from the Krauses, had sufficient reason to believe that some of their paintings would be in the state-owned museum in Munich.

According to the report, "[r]ecords show they were handed over to Bavaria by the US in 1952 for purpose of restitution" and "[t]o their shock, they found they had instead been given by the Bavarian State in the early 1960s to Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach, daughter of Hitler's close friend and photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and wife of the notorious 'Gauleiter' [Hitler's district governor] of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach."

For further information about how this murky chapter of history came to light and the government investigation, see Bavarian Parliament Will Investigate Claims that Looted Art Was Returned to Nazis and Nazi Art Loot Returned ... to Nazis.

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