US pressures Germany about Nazi-looted art

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

Nazi confiscated
Dwight D. Eisenhower, a US Army general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, inspects artwork that was stolen by Nazis and kept in a German salt mine.

In a tale that sounds more like the script for a heist film, a treasure trove of 1,400 priceless artworks from the likes of Matisse, Renoir, and Picasso were found in a German man’s Munich apartment. That’s not the only closely held secret, either, because German authorities apparently kept quiet about their discovery of the stash for over a year! Now, the US is pushing for Germany to be more open about its handling of the art, which isn’t a terribly surprising move, considering recent rocky relations with Germany over NSA spying.

Alright, but let’s back up a bit. How did the lone 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt end up with an art collection that’s estimated to be worth more than a billion dollars in his dingy apartment? Well, it turns out his father was a wartime art dealer when Nazis ruled Germany. Since the Nazis punished rebellious artists and stole their paintings, buyers were able to find these now extremely valuable pieces for very cheap prices, either from fleeing artists or Nazi sellers.

Gurlitt first attracted the attention of German officials when he was traveling by train from Zurich to Munich with a huge amount of cash. They began investigating him for not paying taxes, and now his location is unknown. A search of his apartment eventually turned up the surprise collection in March 2012.

Now, hundreds of people and museums are asking for details from Germany, since many of the works were stolen by Nazis. The US State Department is calling for Germany to publish the full list of recovered works, and to make it easier for original owners to have their paintings returned. “We don’t want to keep the pictures,” said Reinhard Nemetz, a German official involved in the case. “The pictures are not going to be put up in my office.”

Jewish groups in Germany are also applying pressure, and the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, stated, “Transparency and a swift procedure are important here.” He then added, “We are talking about the stolen inheritance of Jewish collectors, who could now experience delayed justice in (getting) belongings of their families… returned to their rightful owners.”

Featured image courtesy of Thomas Wolf on Wikipedia.