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Art Stolen in Holocaust Finally Returned to Jewish Owners

April 9, 2014

“You shall not steal.”  (Deuteronomy 5:19)

While German law puts a 30-year statute of limitations on stolen property, the question of Nazi-looted artwork has seen recent gains for those seeking pieces stolen from Jewish owners in Nazi Europe.

Franz Marc-Cornelius Gurlitt-Horses in Landscape

Horses in Landscape, by Franz Marc, is one of the artworks discovered in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt.

The question of morality recently confronted 81-year-old Munich man Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a favorite art dealer of Adolf Hitler, who returned the first artwork in his collection proven to be stolen—Henry Matisse’s “Seated Woman / Woman Sitting in an Armchair,” which belonged to Jewish art collector Paul Rosenberg.

Two years ago, Gurlitt’s apartment was raided as part of a tax investigation, with officials stumbling upon 1,406 pieces of art, 590 of which a task force thinks could be stolen from Jews.  (CBS)

Elsewhere, other works are being returned, as well.  Less than two weeks ago, the Tate Gallery of England also returned its first stolen art piece.

Painter John Constable’s 1824 work “Beaching a Boat, Brighton,” which was listed on an official tally of stolen art from the 1940s, was smuggled out of Hungary in 1945.

It had been “taken in the course of anti-Semitic persecution of the collector and his family by the German occupying forces,” said a panel that sought the Tate to take responsibility for the oil painting’s return.  (Telegraph)

The panel of experts criticized the Tate for not asking the Hungarian government about the painting, which belonged to Baron Ferenc Hatvany.

The gallery was “under a moral obligation to pursue the possibility,” said the panel’s report.

Eisenhower-Bradley-Patton-art treasures-Germany-salt mine

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, accompanied by Gen. Omar N. Bradley and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., inspect art treasures stolen by Germans and hidden in a salt mine in Germany.  Although some art looted during the Holocaust was recovered, much was never returned.

Looted artwork is not only an issue in Germany, Hungary, and England, however.  Last March, a search by a series of Dutch museums identified 139 suspects in their collections as being potential stolen items.  (Ynet)

In France, about 100,000 artworks and antiques were taken from Jews between 1940 and 1944.

A year ago, France’s Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said the French nation would be more active in determining the true ownership of about 2,000 art pieces that have yet to be claimed.  (Ynet)

“Until now we have waited for inheritors or relatives to trigger research procedures,” Filippetti said.  “I want to introduce a more proactive approach under which France will seek the owners whether or not a formal request has been made.”  (Israel National News)

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