Reports: German Government Concealed Stolen Nazi Art For Two Years
The German news magazine Focus is reporting that a massive trove of artwork seized by the Nazis from Jewish collections was discovered two years ago in Munich, and kept a secret until now. The artwork was found during a tax evasion investigation, underneath piles of hoarded groceries in the apartment of a reclusive art collector.
The collection is said to contain works by Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall, and be worth over $1 billion. It could contain 1,500 works, or almost 10% of all of the estimated artworks stolen by the Nazis, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Cornelius Gurlitt received most of the works from his father, Hildebrand, a German collector of modern art from the 1920′s until his death in 1956. The Nazis declared most modern art “degenerate” and “anti-German,” and removed it from state museums. They also seized the private art collections of Jews, who had almost all of the prominent private collections at the time.
Some of the works were not directly seized, but sold under duress by Jewish collectors who were persecuted or had the flee the country.
Hildebrand himself was recruited by Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels to sell confiscated artwork abroad. Gurlitt continued dealing after the war.
Jewish groups are outraged that the government concealed the discovery and apparently made no effort to find the paintings’ original and/or rightful owners.
Ruediger Mahlo of the Conference on Jewish material claims against Germany demanded the works be returned to the appropriate Jewish families, saying the current situation “amounts morally to the concealment of stolen goods.”
Nazi efforts to steal artwork were so pronounced that counteracting the theft became a significant Allied effort towards the end of the war. Scholars and historians were recruited for the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archived program, or the “Monuments Men” as they were called, to go to Europe and recover stolen works. A film based on their mission, directed by George Clooney and starring Matt Damon, is set for a 2014 release.