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FTR #791 They May Not Know Art, but They Know What They Like

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained here. [1] (The flash drive includes the anti-fascist books avail­able on this site.)

Listen: MP3

Side 1 [2]  Side 2 [3]

[4]

NB: This description contains material not included in the original program.

Introduction: Exploring past and present, this program examines a detailed, scholarly working hypothesis by authors Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams concerning the possible escape of Adolf Hitler at the end of World War II. (Note that the authors began this investigation as an exploration of something they considered to be no more than a “conspiracy theory” and wound up being an in-depth analysis and investigation. They view the escape as a strong possibility.)

The authors posit that the key players in the realization of Aktion Feurland–the code-name for the operation facilitating Hitler’s escape to Patagonia, Argentina (“Tierra del Fuego”)–were names well known to regular listeners and users of this website: Allen Dulles on the Allied side and Martin Bormann for the Third Reich. (The authors give great credence to Paul Manning’s work [5] and reference it heavily.)

Centered on a quid pro quo arrangement, the authors hypothesize that Aktion Feurland involved the transfer of Nazi technology to the U.S. and the West (known as Project Paperclip) and the saving of priceless works of art from destruction. In return, Dulles  et al guaranteed the safe passage of Hitler, Eva Braun, SS General Hermann Fegelein (Braun’s brother in law), General Heinrich Muller (head of the Gestapo) and Bormann himself.

Note that documents from the late 1940’s [6]on Hitler and his possible escape and whereabouts at that time are STILL classified, the better part of a century after the end of World War II.

 Stalin and General Zhukov (the Red Army’s top general) didn’t believe that Hitler was dead. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was deeply skeptical, as well.

[7]In the context of the working hypothesis presented in the Dunstan/Williams text, a case that broke in Germany in late 2013 assumes potentially larger significance.

A recent disclosure that one Cornelius Gurlitt had many millions of dollars worth of art stashed in what was described as his “dingy” Munich apartment has produced a number of interesting points of inquiry. The art appears to have been a portion of Nazi plunder accumulated during World War II by Cornelius’ father Gurlitt.

Program Highlights Include:

1. The authors posit that the key players in the realization of Aktion Feurland–the code-name for the operation facilitating Hitler’s escape to Patagonia, Argentina (“Tierra del Fuego”)–were names well known to regular listeners and users of this website: Allen Dulles on the Allied side and Martin Bormann for the Third Reich. (The authors give great credence to Paul Manning’s work and reference it heavily.)

Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams; Sterling [HC]; Copyright 2011 by Simon Dunstan, Gerrard Williams and Spitfire Recovery Ltd.; ISBN 978-1-4027-8139-1; p. xxx. [12]

. . . . To the end, Bormann was determined to save the looted wealth of Germany for his own nefarious ends and to sustain a select band of Nazis following military defeat and the fall of Berlin. Massive funds were channeled abroad, while large stashes of bullion and stolen artworks were hidden underground in deep mines across the Third Reich. These were primed with explosives for demolition, which Bormann considered preferable to allowing them to fall into the hands of the Bolshevik hordes. But to Bormann, the artworks were also a bargaining tool. It seems evident that Bormann offered the OSS a Faustian pact: the fruits of one thousand years of Western art, together with the secrets of Nazi Germany’s advanced military technology in exchange for the escape of one man–Adolf Hitler. The alternative was the total destruction of the jewels of Western civilization. This was the key to Aktion Feurland. The deal was done and on the night of April 28, 1945, the plan was put into place. The Grey Wolf was on the run. . . .

2. Centered on a quid pro quo arrangement, the authors hypothesize that Aktion Feurland involved the transfer of Nazi technology to the U.S. and the West (known as Project Paperclip) and the saving of priceless works of art from destruction. In return, Dulles  et al guaranteed the safe passage of Hitler, Eva Braun, SS General Hermann Fegelein (Braun’s brother in law), General Heinrich Muller (head of the Gestapo) and Bormann himself.

In the text excerpt below, the authors italicize those parts of their argument that are logical deduction from the documentation, for purposes of emphasis on what is logical speculation and confirmed fact.

Ibid. pp. 133-134. [12]

. . . . In Bormann’s characteristic style–the carrot and the stick–Kaltenbrunner and [SS Lt. Col. Hans Helmut von] Hummel indicated to Dulles that Bormann was willing to provide the Allies, as an inducement or “carrot,”  with information as to the whereabouts of all the Nazi looted art. It would be handed over intact, together with the national treasure of Germany, including its gold deposits, currency reserves, bearer bonds, and industrial patents–except, of course, for the substantial part of this treasure that Bormann had already secreted abroad. An additional and supremely attractive carrot was Bormann’s undertaking to deliver to the Allies examples of the most modern weapons technology together with the whereabouts of the designers, such as Werner von Braun and his V-2 team, and the nuclear scientists [and uranium ore] of the Uranium Club. Furthermore, the ceasefire in Italy would be ratified immediately. But what was the desired price for such treasures? A blind eye turned to the escape of Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun, Martin Bormann, Heinrich “Gestapo” Muller, Hermann Fegelein, and Ernest Kaltenbrunner. The rest of the Nazi hierarchy was to be abandoned to their fate.

The “stick” was simple. Germany now claimed to be capable of bombarding the eastern seaboard of the United States with weapons of mass destruction: considerable effort had been invested in selling the disinformation to U.S. intelligence agencies, with some success. (See Chapter 16). These weapons incorporated warheads armed with the most toxic nerve agents ever devised, sarin and tabun. In addition, many repositories of the greatest works of art produced during centuries of Western civilization was now held hostage, and this threat was entirely credible, following Hitler’s “Nero Decree” of March 19. Officially titled “Demolitions on Reich Territory,” this decree ordered the utter destruction of all German industrial infrastructure and technology; although not included in the official order, it also implied the destruction of cultural assets and the elimination of any key personnel who might be useful to the Allied powers. . . .

3. Note that documents from the late 1940’s on Hitler and his possible escape and whereabouts at that time are STILL classified, the better part of a century after the end of World War II.

Ibid.; p.242. [12]

. . . . During this period [the late 1940’s], the FBI was taking reports of Hitler being in Latin America very seriously. Thousands of documents pertaining to Hitler from these years are  still classified as Top Secret on both sides of the Atlantic; nevertheless, and despite the very heavy censorship of the few files released into the public domain, some information can be gleaned. . . .

4. Stalin and General Zhukov (the Red Army’s top general) didn’t believe that Hitler was dead. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was deeply skeptical, as well.

Ibid.; p. xxii. [12]

. . . . Stalin never believed Hitler was dead, insisting at the Potsdam Conference on July17, 1945, that he had escaped–probably to “Spain or Argentina.” Stalin’s top general, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, said on August 6, 1945; “We found no corpse that could be Hitler’s.”

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stated publicly on October 12, 1945, “There is every assumption that Hitler is dead, but not a bit of conclusive proof that he is dead.” He told the Associated Press that “Russian friends” had informed him that they had been “unable to unearth any tangible evidence of his death.” One U.S. senator went as far as offering one million U.S. dollars for proof of Hitler’s death. It has never been claimed. . . .

5a. We have spoken at length about the Bormann flight capital network in numerous programs. The Thyssen-owned Union Banking Corporation was used for the Bormann capital transfers to the U.S. Prescott Bush,Sr. and George Herbert Walker [13] were head of the Union Banking Corporation at this time.

Ibid.; p. 85. [12]

. . . . With exquisite hypocrisy, Bormann made use of the Thyssen family’s private bank in Rotterdam, Bank Voor Handel en Scheepvaart N.V., which had originally been founded by August Thyssen in 1918 in order to send illicit funds out of the Kaiser’s Germany as defeat in World War I approached. Money was channeled to the Union Banking Corporation of New York, which was wholly owned by Fritz Thyssen’s Vereignigte Stahlwerke AG (United Steelworks). From there it was disbursed to accounts in other American banks, including National City Bank, Chase National Bank, and Irving Trust, and used to buy stocks in U.S. companies and corporations. . . . .

5b. One of the principal figures in the Bormann network’s transfer of Nazi funds to Argentina was Eva Duarte, later and better known as “Evita Peron.”

“Evita” was a Nazi spy, even before she married Juan Peron.

Ibid.; p. 198. [12]

. . . . Martin Bormann, as always, was entirely clear-sighted, and during that year he put in hand his plan to prepare and fund that refuge–Aktion Feurland. The Nazi synpathizers in Argentina enjoyed a virtually free rein, continuing to operate schools with Nazi symbols and ideology and meeting regularly (although by 1943, not as publicly as before), but the key conspirators were few–a group limited to people Bormann had reason to trust. These included a clique of powerful, venal bankers and industrialists such as Ludwig Freude; a charismatic ambitouis army officer, Juan Domingo Peron; and a beautiful, intelligent acress, Eva Duarte. . . .

5c. More about Bormann and Eva Duarte (later Eva Peron):

p. 210. [12]

. . . . Ludwig Freude’s and Eva Duarte’s involvement in the smuggling operation was made clear in an Argentine police document of April 18, 1945. This detailed the operations of Freude, “agent of the Third Reich,” and his dealings with an Argentine agent, “Natalio.” This informant reported that Freude had made very substantial deposits in various Buenos Aires banks in the name of the “well-known radio-theatrical actress Maria Eva Duarte.” Freude told Natalio that on February 7, 1945, a U-boat had brought huge funds to help in the reconstruction of the Nazi empire. Subsequent police investigations revealed that cases from the U-boat with the woreds Geheime Reichssache (“Reich Top Secret”) stenciled on them, had been taken to a Lahusen ranch run by two “Nazi brothers, just outside Buenos Aires.” Deposits of gold and various currencies were later made in Eva’s name at the Banco Aleman Transatlantico, Banco Germanico, and Banco Tornquist. . . .

5d. After marrying Juan Peron, Evita helped finalize Bormann’s decampment to Argentina:

Ibid.; p. 258. [12]

. . . .The all-conquering Evita left Spain for Rome on June 25, 1947. Father Benitez would smooth her way in the Vatican with the aid of Bishop Alois Hudal [one of the key members of the Vatican/Nazi “Ratline”]. Two days after she arrived she was given an audience with pope Pius XII, spending twenty minutes with the Holy Father–“a time usually allotted by Vatican protocol to queens.” However, there was a more sinister side to the Rome trip. Using Bishop Hudal as an intermediary, she arranged to meet Bormann in an Italian villa at Rapallo provided for her use by [Argentine shipping billionaire Alberto] Dodero. The shipowner was also present at the meeting, as was Eva’s brother Juan Duarte. There, she and her former paymaster cut the deal that guaranteed that his Fuhrer’s safe haven would continue to remain safe, and allowed Bormann to leave Europe at last for a new life in South America. However, she and her team had one shocking disappointment for Bormann. . . .  

5e. The authors contend that Evita, her husband and others of the Argentine end of the Nazi flight capital program in Argentina doubled on Bormann and Mueller, with lethal results for the conspirators. In 1952, Evita died of cancer at age 33. Much of her husband’s popularity stemmed from her public persona. Deprived of it by her untimely death, he was overthrown in a military coup.

Ibid.; pp. 258, 259, 260. [12]

. . . . Proving that there is no honor among thieves, the Perons presented Bormann with a radical renegotiation of their earlier understanding. Evita had brought with her to Europe some $800 million worth of the treasure that he had placed in supposed safekeeping in Argentina, and she would deposit this vast sum in Swiss banks for the Perons’ own use. . . .

. . . . However, the Borman “Organization” had a keen memory. After the spring of 1948, when Muller based himself in Cordoba and became directly responsible for the security of the Organization, the bankers who had betrayed Bormann would begin to suffer a string of untimely deaths. Heinrich Doerge died mysteriously in 1949; in December 1950, Ricardo von Leute was found dead in a Buenos Aires street, and Ricardo Staudt would survive him by only a few months. Ludwig Freude himself, the kingpin of Aktion Feurland in Argentina, died in 1952 from drinking a poisoned cup of coffee, and Evita’s younger brother Juan Duarte met his end in 1954 with a gunshot to the head. Officially, he was said to have committed suicide. . . . .

6.  A recent disclosure that one Cornelius Gurlitt had many millions of dollars worth of art stashed in what was described as his “dingy” Munich apartment has produced a number of interesting points of inquiry. The art appears to have been a portion of Nazi plunder accumulated during World War II by Cornelius’ father Gurlitt.

It turned out that Cornelius Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand had sold artworks for Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to generate hard currency for the Third Reich.
“Report of Nazi-Looted Trove Puts Art World in an Uproar” by Alison Smale; The New York Times; 11/5/2013. [8]
. . . . If confirmed, the discovery would be one of the biggest finds of vanished art in years. But word of it left almost equally big questions unanswered: Why did the German authorities let nearly two years pass before such a sizable find was disclosed? What will become of the recovered works of art? Did Mr. [Cornelius] Gurlitt continue to make sales even after the raid? And where is he today? . . .

. . . . Yet he [Hildebrand Gurlitt] was also one of the few Germans granted permission by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, to sell confiscated art. Sales to foreign buyers were meant to fill Nazi coffers, but art historians have documented many sales in Germany, as well as proceeds pocketed by the dealers involved. . . .

7. The handling of the case by the German authorities puzzled many onlookers and analysts. Now being portrayed as something of a “lone nut,” Cornelius Hildebrand maintained a Swiss bank account and had no records with the Munich police department. (In Germany, every citizen is required to register with the local police administration.)

Note that the younger Gurlitt continued to sell art works, theoretically in order to finance his health care as he got older. Germany has universal health coverage. On one recent sale, he netted about a half million dollars. That’s a LOT of aspirin! This is another aspect of the case that seems more than a little odd, upon examination.

When the elder Gurlitt was detained by the “Monuments Men” after the war, he was released and not charged. He was allowed to keep his trove. WHY?

The elder Gurlitt died in an auto accident in 1956, “racing” back to his home from Berlin. At that point in time, Berlin was a hotbed of Cold War intrigue and espionage. Might the elder Gurlitt have been selling art to help finance Underground Reich and/or BND-related clandestine activities? Might he have been moving art to generate funds for the Underground Reich? Was he fleeing something or someone in Berlin at the time of his death?

Another suspicious detail involves a 1966 inquiry by the German government into the Gurlitt art trove. Hildebrand’s widow (Cornelius’ mother) responded that all of the elder Gurlitt’s art and records were destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during the war. This was a lie. Investigators subsequently found both paintings and record books kept by Hildebrand!

“For Son of a Nazi-era Dealer, a Private Life Amid a Tainted Trove of Art” by Andrew Higgins and Katrin Bennhold; The New York Times; 11/18/2013. pp. A4-A11. [9]

. . . Despite his seclusion, Mr.[Cornelius] Gurlitt clearly calculated his risks. When German customs officers questioned him in 2010 on a train to Munich from Switzerland, where he is known to have a bank account and has sold at least one work, they discovered he was carrying €9,000, just below the legal limit. His excessively shy manner nonetheless set off alarm bells. Their volume increased when investigators discovered later that Mr. Gurlitt did not exist, bureaucratically speaking. He was not listed in Munich’s registry of residents or in other official records. . . .

. . . .Watching over his family’s art trove was Mr. Gurlitt’s only known job. Periodically, he dipped into the collection to select a work to sell, a need that, according to Der Spiegel, became more pressing in recent years as his health declined. The last piece he is known to have sold — “The Lion Tamer,” by the German artist Max Beckmann — fetched 864,000 euros, or $1.17 million, including commissions, at an auction in Cologne in 2011. Mr. Gurlitt agreed to give 45 percent of the proceeds to a Jewish family that had originally owned the work. . . .

. . . Soon after, he [Hildebrand–the elder Gurlitt] was detained there and questioned by, the group of historians, curators and soldiers entrusted with safeguarding Europe’s cultural heritage. In his statements to investigators, he emphasized his anti-Nazi sentiments and maintained that he had never handled stolen art, and that the works in his possession were mostly “the personal property of my family or myself.” Investigators concluded that he was not an important player in the art trade and later returned to him more than 115 paintings, in addition to drawings and other fine art objects. . . .

. . . . In 1956, Hildebrand Gurlitt died in a crash on the autobahn while racing from Berlin back to the family’s home in Düsseldorf . . .

. . . . In late 1966, a government agency in Berlin responsible for the restitution of assets plundered during the Nazi era sent a formal letter asking about four paintings acquired by her husband. Mrs. Gurlitt replied that all her husband’s records and artworks had been “incinerated” when the Allies bombed Dresden in February 1945. The search of Cornelius’s apartment last year proved this to be a deception: Investigators found not only paintings but also record books kept by his father. . . .

8. The anomalies in this case may well stem from a very significant fact. The return of the art works is impeded by a Third Reich law, still on the books in the “new” Germany. This exemplifies a point we have been making about the continuity between the Third Reich and the Federal Republic.
 “Enduring Nazi Law Impedes Recovery of Art” by Melissa Eddy and Alison Smale; The New York Times; 11/20/2013. [10]
Wolfgang Büche was amazed this month when a watercolor seized by the Nazis from the small museum in this eastern city, where he is the curator, reappeared, part of a vast trove uncovered in a Munich apartment.

But his excitement at seeing the work, “Landscape With Horses,” a possible study for a 1911 painting by the German Expressionist Franz Marc, was tempered by one fact he called “irrefutable”: The 1938 law that allowed the Nazis to seize it — and thousands of other Modernist artworks deemed “degenerate” because Hitler viewed them as un-German or Jewish in nature — remains on the books to this day.

The German authorities say they believe that 380 works confiscated from German public museums under the Nazi-era law may be among the more than 1,200 paintings, lithographs and drawings found stashed away in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive 80-year-old son of a Nazi-era art dealer.

The law’s existence renders slim the likelihood that Mr. Büche’s museum or dozens of others in Germany can reclaim their works, German legal experts and museum and government officials say. And that law is likely to remain in place. . . .

9. An article from Der Spiegel discloses how profound was Cornelius Gurlitt’s activities on behalf of the Third Reich. He was involved with appropriating works of art for Hitler’s proposed art museum in Linz, Austria. Works intended for that museum were alleged by Dunstan and Williams to have been central to the apparent Dulles/Bormann deal at the foundation of Aktion Feurland.

“Art Dealer to the Führer Hilde­brand Gurlitt’s Deep Nazi Ties” By Felix Bohr, Lothar Gorris, Ulrike Knofel, Sven Robel and Michael Sontheimer; Der Spiegel; 12/23/2013. [14]

Hilde­brand Gurlitt, the man who assem­bled the astound­ing art col­lec­tion recently dis­cov­ered in a Munich apart­ment, was more deeply involved in the trade of looted art­works than had been pre­vi­ously assumed. He also prof­ited from Nazi injus­tices after the war.

The Amer­i­cans moved in from the west around noon. There were two tanks, fol­lowed by infantry sol­diers, their weapons at the ready.

There are peo­ple in Aschbach, a vil­lage in the Upper Fran­co­nia region of Bavaria, who remem­ber April 14, 1945 very clearly. They were chil­dren then, help­ing out in the fields as the sol­diers marched past. They remem­ber that some of the men had dark skin and gave them chew­ing gum.

At the time, Aschbach was a town of a few hun­dred res­i­dents, com­plete with a cas­tle on a hill that belonged to the aris­to­cratic Pöl­nitz fam­ily. The cas­tle, its façade cov­ered in brown­ish plas­ter over­grown with wild grape vines, was part of an estate that included a lake and sev­eral hun­dred hectares of for­est. It still stands on the out­skirts of Aschbach today, a fairy­tale cas­tle in Franconia.

Dur­ing those last days of World War II, Aschbach res­i­dents hung white sheets from their win­dows and were later reg­is­tered by the Amer­i­can sol­diers. The Amer­i­cans arrested local Nazi Party leader Baron Ger­hard von Pöl­nitz. The res­i­dents who were reg­is­tered included a man named Karl Haber­stock, who appeared on a wanted list of the Office of Strate­gic Ser­vices (OSS), the pre­cur­sor to the CIA. Haber­stock, an art dealer, had been liv­ing in the cas­tle with his wife for sev­eral months.

The Amer­i­can army had a spe­cial unit to han­dle such cases, the Mon­u­ments, Fine Arts and Archives Sec­tion. Their job was to search for art stolen by the Nazis.

Mon­u­ments Men

When Cap­tain Robert K. Posey and his assis­tant, Pri­vate Lin­coln Kirstein, known as “Mon­u­ments Men,” inspected the cas­tle in early May they found an enor­mous art ware­house. It con­tained paint­ings and sculp­tures from the museum in nearby Bam­berg and a pic­ture gallery in the cen­tral Ger­man city of Kas­sel, whose direc­tors had sought to pro­tect the works from Allied bombs. They also dis­cov­ered sus­pi­cious pri­vate prop­erty, some 13 crates of art­works marked as belong­ing to Herib­ert Füt­terer, the com­man­der of the Ger­man Air Force divi­sion for Bohemia and Moravia. The estate chapel con­tained suit­cases and bags full of art, which Ewald von Kleist, the for­mer com­man­der of Army Group A of the Wehrma­cht, had left there. Cap­tain Posey declared the estate a restricted area and had signs read­ing “Off Lim­its” posted at the property.

A few days later, a Mon­u­ments Man noted: “In addi­tion, rooms con­tain­ing paint­ings, tapes­tries, stat­ues, valu­able fur­ni­ture and doc­u­ments from the belong­ings of two noto­ri­ous Ger­man art deal­ers were found in the cas­tle.” They were the col­lec­tions of Karl Haber­stock and a cer­tain Hilde­brand Gurlitt, who had also lived in the cas­tle with his fam­ily since their house in Dres­den was burned down.

A note dated May 16 reads: “A large room on the upper floor with 34 boxes, two pack­ages con­tain­ing car­pets, eight pack­ages of books … one room on the ground floor con­tain­ing an addi­tional 13 boxes owned by Mr. Gurlitt.” Most of these boxes con­tained pic­tures and drawings.

‘Con­nec­tions Within High-Level Nazi Circles’

In the fol­low­ing months and years, the Amer­i­can art inves­ti­ga­tors wrote let­ters, memos, inven­tory lists, reports and dossiers to clear up the ori­gins of the art. With regard to Haber­stock, they wrote: “Mr. Karl Haber­stock, from Berlin, is the most noto­ri­ous art col­lec­tor in Europe. He was Hitler’s pri­vate art col­lec­tor and, for years, seized art trea­sures in France, Hol­land, Bel­gium and even Switzer­land and Italy, using ille­gal, unscrupu­lous and even bru­tal meth­ods. His name is infa­mous among all hon­est col­lec­tors in Europe.”

Gurlitt, they wrote, was “an art col­lec­tor from Ham­burg with con­nec­tions within high-level Nazi cir­cles. He acted on behalf of other Nazi offi­cials and made many trips to France, from where he brought home art col­lec­tions. There is rea­son to believe that these pri­vate art col­lec­tions con­sist of looted art from other coun­tries.” For the Mon­u­ments Men, Gurlitt was also an “art dealer to the Führer.”

Now, almost 70 years later, what the Mon­u­ments Men dis­cov­ered at Aschbach Cas­tle in May 1945 has shown a spot­light on Germany’s past once again. Cus­toms offi­cials found an enor­mous trea­sure trove of art­works from the Third Reich in an apart­ment in Munich’s Schwabing dis­trict. It includes 380 pic­tures that the Nazis had dubbed “degen­er­ate art” in 1937 and removed from muse­ums. The Schwabing find also included 590 other art­works that the Nazi regime and its hench­men may have stolen from Jew­ish own­ers. The owner of the apart­ment is Gurlitt’s son Cor­nelius, the cur­rent heir of the col­lec­tion, who was 12 and liv­ing in Aschbach at the end of the war.

Con­se­quences of Munich Discovery

With the ori­gins of the indi­vid­ual pic­tures still unclear, a task force appointed by the Ger­man gov­ern­ment is inves­ti­gat­ing the his­tory of each art­work. It will be a lengthy effort. But a search per­formed by SPIEGEL staff, in such places as the French For­eign Min­istry archives and the National Museum in Wro­claw, Poland, has revealed the sub­stan­tial extent to which Gurlitt dealt in looted art and how ruth­less his prac­tices were.

A Hol­ly­wood film about the Mon­u­ments Men will be screened for the first time at next year’s Berlin Film Fes­ti­val. George Clooney pro­duced and directed the film, in addi­tion to play­ing the main role: a US sol­dier who is part of a spe­cial unit made up of art his­to­ri­ans, museum experts and other assis­tants, whose mis­sion is to recover art stolen by the Nazis and res­cue it from destruc­tion in the final days of the war. Appar­ently the film depicts the his­tor­i­cal events with some degree of accuracy.

But per­haps what hap­pened in Aschbach in those last few days of the war and the first few months of peace would make for a more inter­est­ing film: an enchanted cas­tle in Upper Fran­co­nia owned by a baron who had joined the Nazis, and who served dur­ing the war in Paris, where he worked with art deal­ers with dubi­ous rep­u­ta­tions, some of whom he even­tu­ally har­bored in his cas­tle near the end of the ill-fated Third Reich.

It would be a film about the country’s elites, who ben­e­fited from the crimes of the Nazis, a story about cul­prits who quickly trans­formed them­selves into sup­pos­edly upstand­ing cit­i­zens and, in a new Ger­many, became the pil­lars of soci­ety once again.

In a bizarre twist, for sev­eral months after the war Schloss Aschbach housed a group of young Jews who had sur­vived the Holo­caust. Iron­i­cally they, and not the Nazi baron, lived in the castle’s ele­gant rooms before leav­ing the land of the Shoah for good. But more on that later.

‘Extremely Ner­vous’

The Mon­u­ments Men ques­tioned Hilde­brand Gurlitt in Aschbach in June 1945. They noticed that he seemed “extremely ner­vous” and noted it seemed as if he were not telling the whole truth. It was dur­ing those days that Gurlitt, the “art dealer to the Führer,” rein­vented him­self: as a vic­tim of the Nazis, a man who had saved pre­cious art­works from destruc­tion and some­one who had never done any­thing malicious.

Of course, not every­thing Gurlitt told the Amer­i­cans was false. He pointed out that the Nazis clas­si­fied him as a “mon­grel,” because of his Jew­ish grand­mother, and that he had feared for his future and even his life after 1933, which led him to coop­er­ate. As Gurlitt stated dur­ing the three-day inter­ro­ga­tion, there was a risk that he, as a so-called quarter-Jew, would be drafted into forced labor for the Todt Orga­ni­za­tion, a Third Reich civil and mil­i­tary engi­neer­ing group. Gurlitt also said: “I had to decide between the war and the work for muse­ums. I never bought a pic­ture that wasn’t offered to me vol­un­tar­ily. As I heard, laws were also enacted in France so that Jew­ish art col­lec­tions could be con­fis­cated. But I never saw it with my own eyes.”

The Mon­u­ments Men in Aschbach felt that Haber­stock was the more egre­gious crim­i­nal. He was taken into inves­tiga­tive cus­tody in May 1945, and in August he was brought to Altaussee in Aus­tria, where all those who were viewed as truly seri­ous art crim­i­nals were required to tes­tify near a salt mine filled with art­works. Gurlitt was allowed to stay in Aschbach.

Haber­stock later told Ger­man offi­cials that the Amer­i­cans had under­es­ti­mated Gurlitt’s role dur­ing the Nazi period. In a 1949 let­ter to a gov­ern­ment offi­cial, he wrote: “I was able to prove every­thing, includ­ing, for exam­ple, that I was not the main sup­plier for Linz, whereas Mr. Voss, dur­ing his short term in office, bought about 3,000 art­works and took over con­fis­cated col­lec­tions together with his main buyer, Dr. Hilde­brand Gurlitt.”

Linz was to be the site of Hitler’s mas­sive Führer museum. It was never built, and yet the Nazis bought enough art to fill three muse­ums. Her­mann Voss, a museum direc­tor from Wies­baden who had also run a museum in Dres­den, ran the art-buying pro­gram from 1943 onward. From then on, Gurlitt worked for Hitler through Voss, who served as a mid­dle­man. He also bought art for Ger­man muse­ums that had been brought into line by the regime, as well as for pri­vate cit­i­zens like Ham­burg cig­a­rette man­u­fac­turer Her­mann F. Reemtsma, Hanover choco­late mag­nate Bern­hard Spren­gel and Cologne lawyer Josef Haubrich.

Gurlitt’s Early Career

In 1930, art his­to­rian Gurlitt was removed from his post as direc­tor of the museum in the east­ern city of Zwickau, because he was viewed as a cham­pion of mod­ern art. He went to Ham­burg, where he ran the city’s Kun­stverein art museum, until he was fired once again over his pref­er­ence for the avant-garde, as well as his Jew­ish grandmother.

Gurlitt remained in Ham­burg, where he became an art dealer and opened a gallery. At the time, the kind of mod­ern art he had con­sis­tently sup­ported had become a risky busi­ness. Gurlitt increas­ingly bought and sold older, more tra­di­tional art. He had a knack for the busi­ness, devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships with col­lec­tors and find­ing ways to gain access to pic­tures. Before long, he was buy­ing art from peo­ple who were being per­se­cuted, mainly Jews, who sold their art because they were being forced to flee Ger­many, had lost their jobs and needed money to feed their fam­i­lies, or were being required to pay the so-called “Jew­ish wealth levy.” Through mid­dle­men, Gurlitt also bought art that had been seized by the Gestapo.

One of the paint­ings the Mon­u­ments Men found in Aschbach Cas­tle, in a crate Gurlitt had marked with the num­ber 36, was by the Bul­gar­ian painter Jules Pascin, born in 1885. It depicts two women, one nude and another wear­ing a shirt, and a man. They seem to be strangers, and they are not look­ing at each other — a metaphor for the bleak­ness of life. Pascin painted it in Paris in 1909 and called it “The Stu­dio of the Painter Gross­mann.” He com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1930.

Gurlitt told the Amer­i­cans that the paint­ing had belonged to his father, who had bought it before the Nazis came into power. In fact, Gurlitt bought the Pascin in 1935 for 600 Reichs­mark, sig­nif­i­cantly less than it was worth, from Julius Fer­di­nand Wollf, the long­stand­ing editor-in-chief of a Dres­den news­pa­per, the Dres­d­ner Neueste Nachrichten. Wollf was a pas­sion­ately eth­i­cal and respected jour­nal­ist, until the Nazis forced him out of office in 1933. Because of his Jew­ish back­ground, he soon lost his assets and the SS laid waste to his apart­ment. In 1942, shortly before his sched­uled depor­ta­tion to a con­cen­tra­tion camp, he took his own life, together with his wife and his brother.

After ini­tially con­fis­cat­ing the paint­ing, the Amer­i­cans returned it to Gurlitt in 1950. It must have been sold later. In 1969, at any rate, it was included in sev­eral exhi­bi­tions, on loan from a French fam­ily of col­lec­tors. In 1972, it was sold at auc­tion at Christie’s in Lon­don for almost $40,000 (€29,000). The work later turned up in Chicago.

‘Degen­er­ate Art’ a Lucra­tive Export

Gurlitt became the offi­cial dealer in “degen­er­ate art,” the mod­ern works that were no longer deemed accept­able in the Third Reich. He was expected to sell the works abroad to bring in hard cur­rency. He also con­tin­ued his deal­ings in older art. On Dec. 4, 1938, he acquired draw­ings by the 19th-century painter Adolf Men­zel. They had belonged to a Jew­ish doc­tor in Ham­burg, Ernst Julius Wolff­son, who had a prac­tice on Rothen­baum­chaussee, a street in an upscale neigh­bor­hood, and was the chair­man of the med­ical association.

Wolff­son was deprived of his rep­u­ta­tion and stripped of his posi­tions after 1933, and his med­ical license was revoked in 1938. He was impris­oned at Sach­sen­hausen con­cen­tra­tion camp, but he was sub­se­quently released when influ­en­tial Ham­burg res­i­dents spoke out on his behalf. A fam­ily man, he had no income and no insur­ance when he was ordered to pay the “Jew­ish wealth levy” in 1938. Gurlitt paid him 2,550 Reich­mark, far below the mar­ket price, for nine Men­zel draw­ings. Art his­to­rian Maike Bruhns dis­cov­ered that Ham­burg indus­tri­al­ist Her­mann F. Reemtsma, one of Gurlitt’s reg­u­lar cus­tomers, had bought two of the drawings.

After the war, the Wolff­son family’s attor­ney demanded the return of the draw­ings, but Gurlitt refused to pro­vide any infor­ma­tion about the buy­ers. In 1993, two of the works in the Wolff­son col­lec­tion were included in a memo­r­ial exhi­bi­tion titled “Works of Art that Affect Me. The Col­lec­tor Her­mann F. Reemtsma.”

Deal­ing in Wartime

Gurlitt remained in Ham­burg until 1942. In the first years of the war, at the height of Germany’s mil­i­tary suc­cesses, Gurlitt expanded his ter­ri­tory to include Hol­land, Bel­gium and France. When bombs destroyed his gallery on the Alster Lake in Ham­burg, Gurlitt took his wife and their two chil­dren to Dres­den to live in his par­ents’ house. From there, he estab­lished a rela­tion­ship with Cor­nelius Müller Hof­st­ede, who headed the Sile­sian Museum in Bres­lau (now called Wro­claw), where he appraised the col­lec­tions of per­se­cuted Jews and sold the con­fis­cated paint­ings on the mar­ket. Müller Hof­st­ede ordered paint­ings picked up from Jew­ish homes and, using an obse­quious tone, wrote to Gurlitt to offer him the works. He also men­tioned that he was even will­ing to come to Dres­den to “present” the pic­tures to Gurlitt. His let­ter ended with the words “Heil Hitler!”

It was also Müller Hof­st­ede who obtained the Max Lieber­mann paint­ing “Two Rid­ers on the Beach” for Gurlitt. A few weeks ago, the work was one of the first pic­tures from the con­fis­cated Gurlitt col­lec­tion in Munich to be shown at a press con­fer­ence. The Nazis had con­fis­cated it from sugar refiner David Fried­mann, who died in 1942. Friedmann’s daugh­ter was killed in a con­cen­tra­tion camp in 1943.

Like Müller Hof­st­ede in Bres­lau, Voss, the coor­di­na­tor for the Linz spe­cial project, had assisted the Gestapo and, as a “police expert,” had appraised Jew­ish col­lec­tions. He would go into the homes of the per­se­cuted and pick out pieces for his museum. He was trav­el­ing a great deal in 1943, to Berlin, Basel and Bres­lau. Accord­ing to this travel notes, he met with “A.H. in the Führer’s build­ing” on a Feb­ru­ary night in Munich. He also attended ques­tion­able auc­tions and went to Vienna and Linz. But he did not go to Paris, because Gurlitt was there on his behalf.

Shady Cir­cles, Piles of Cash

Gurlitt had made his first pur­chases by 1941, the year of the Ger­man inva­sion of France. The fact that the paint­ings came from France increased their value. Many Ger­man museum direc­tors longed to go to France, and the coun­try was also a place Gurlitt loved. Impor­tant French col­lec­tions were con­fis­cated, or their own­ers were forced into sell­ing at ridicu­lously low prices. Gurlitt appar­ently sur­rounded him­self with a group of shady mem­bers of the art world, includ­ing agents, inform­ers and other deal­ers. He was in great demand, because he had mil­lions of Reichs­mark to spend.

Gurlitt was now mak­ing reg­u­lar trips to Paris. And con­trary to his later asser­tions, he did not stay in mod­est guest­houses but in grand hotels or the apart­ment of a mis­tress. The three men who would later come together at Aschbach Cas­tle also met in Paris. Under Voss’s pre­de­ces­sor, art dealer Haber­stock had been one of the pre­ferred buy­ers for the future Hitler museum. He stayed at the Ritz, and he would announce his upcom­ing vis­its to Paris in an art mag­a­zine. He also handed out cards indi­cat­ing that he was look­ing for “first class pic­tures” by old masters.

Baron Ger­hard von Pöl­nitz, the lord of the manor in Aschbach, was sta­tioned in Paris dur­ing those years, as an offi­cer in the Ger­man Air Force. In his free time, he worked for Haber­stock and Gurlitt, set­ting up deals and serv­ing as their rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Jane Weyll, one of Haberstock’s employ­ees, became the baron’s mistress.

There is a report by French art his­to­rian Michel Mar­tin about Hilde­brand Gurlitt in the French For­eign Min­istry archive. Dur­ing the occu­pa­tion period, Mar­tin worked in the paint­ings depart­ment at the Lou­vre, where he issued export per­mits for art­works. Gurlitt, Mar­tin wrote, had access to “con­stantly expand­ing credit” and had acquired works worth a total of “400 to 500 mil­lion francs.”

When­ever Gurlitt returned to Ger­many, he brought along pho­tographs of selected paint­ings to show museum staff. Accord­ing to Martin’s account, he also acquired works for his pri­vate col­lec­tion in Paris. “As soon as Gurlitt encoun­tered our resis­tance to his art exports, he would pick up art­works with­out our per­mis­sion, or he would get help from the Ger­man Embassy. Gurlitt took impor­tant art­works out of the coun­try against our will.”

‘Merely an Official’

Mar­tin also wrote that he had believed Gurlitt when he said that he did “not wish to deal in art­works that came from Jew­ish col­lec­tions.” Appar­ently Gurlitt also insisted that he was “merely an offi­cial” act­ing on orders from above.

Pöl­nitz, Haber­stock and Gurlitt met again at Aschbach Cas­tle at the end of the war. Haber­stock, who the Amer­i­cans even­tu­ally turned over to the Ger­man courts, was later exon­er­ated. He worked as an art dealer in Munich after the war and died in 1956, the same year as his com­peti­tor Gurlitt.

After the war ended, Baron von Pöl­nitz was taken to an intern­ment camp in Moos­burg in Upper Bavaria from which he was released in 1947. His denaz­i­fi­ca­tion file has dis­ap­peared. He died in 1962 at the age of 64.

The Amer­i­cans placed Gurlitt under house arrest in Aschbach. To occupy his time, he gave talks on Dürer and Bar­lach, and kitsch in reli­gious art, to the small local church con­gre­ga­tion. Oth­er­wise, he wrote let­ters attempt­ing to jus­tify his pur­chases in France.

In a 1947 let­ter to Madame Rose Val­land, a French art his­to­rian who was in charge of resti­tu­tions, he insisted that he had been a “gen­uine friend of France and a true oppo­nent of the Nazi regime,” one who, “in speech and writ­ing,” had “always cham­pi­oned French art.” It was only “strange coin­ci­dences” that had made it pos­si­ble “for me to save myself by going to France as an art dealer.” He made no men­tion of his work for the Führer museum in Linz.

Putting the Past Behind Him

Gurlitt’s house arrest was lifted, and in Jan­u­ary 1948 he moved to Düs­sel­dorf, where he became the direc­tor of that city’s Kun­stverein museum. He promptly declared his years in Aschbach as “part of the past,” but he also noted that life there was “quite pleas­ant and peaceful.”

In 1950, Gurlitt’s art was restored to him from the archive of seized prop­erty known as the Wies­baden Cen­tral Col­lect­ing Point. He had already been acquit­ted of all charges. The Amer­i­cans had con­fis­cated a total of 140 works. But Gurlitt had also hid­den a por­tion of his col­lec­tion from the Amer­i­cans in an old water mill, which he then recovered.

Gurlitt was a respected mem­ber of soci­ety once again, gain­ing the sup­port of Düs­sel­dorf indus­tri­al­ists by fea­tur­ing their art col­lec­tions in exhi­bi­tions. At the same time, he began show­ing his own col­lec­tion again, cleans­ing it of its past asso­ci­a­tions in the process. In 1953, he was appointed to an hon­orary com­mit­tee over­see­ing an exhi­bi­tion of Ger­man art in Lucerne, Switzer­land, spon­sored by Germany’s then-President Theodor Heuss. A few of the pic­tures were from Gurlitt’s col­lec­tion, includ­ing a paint­ing by Ernst Lud­wig Kirch­ner (“Two Female Nudes”) and a water­color by Franz Marc (“Large Horse”).

Part of Gurlitt’s pur­pose in show­ing the paint­ings was prob­a­bly to assess whether there would be any objec­tions or claims from the true own­ers. A year later, he pre­sented an exhi­bi­tion titled “Works of French Paint­ing and the Graphic Arts” at Villa Hügel in the west­ern city of Essen: paint­ings by French Impres­sion­ists like Paul Signac, Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, which would be worth sev­eral mil­lion euros today, includ­ing a view of the Water­loo Bridge by Claude Monet and Gus­tave Courbet’s “Land­scape with Rocks.” Their where­abouts are as unclear today as their origins.

Final Years and Tall Tales

Finally, in 1956, the year of his death, Gurlitt sent pic­tures from his col­lec­tion to New York, includ­ing works by Max Beck­mann and Vass­ily Kandin­sky. He wrote a bio­graph­i­cal sketch for the cat­a­log, but it was never pub­lished. In the piece, Gurlitt described him­self as coura­geous and bold, a hero whose deal­ings dur­ing the war were a “dan­ger­ous bal­anc­ing act,” and who had noth­ing left to his name but a push­cart filled with neces­si­ties after the bomb­ing of Dres­den. His account sounded almost like the story of the Kaims, a Jew­ish cou­ple from Bres­lau who sold Gurlitt one of their paint­ings, lost every­thing and were sent to the ghetto push­ing a handcart.

Gurlitt died after a car acci­dent in 1956. In his obit­u­ar­ies, he was cel­e­brated as an impor­tant fig­ure in the post­war West Ger­man art world. His widow Helene moved to Munich in the early 1960s, where she bought two expen­sive apart­ments in a new build­ing in Schwabing. In May 1960, she had four works from her husband’s col­lec­tion sold by the Ket­terer Kunst auc­tion house, includ­ing Beckmann’s “Bar, Brown,” which belongs to a US museum today, and a paint­ing of play­wright Bertolt Brecht by Rudolf Schlichter, which ended up in Munich’s Lenbach­haus. The paint­ing, an impor­tant work from the New Objec­tiv­ity move­ment, is now one the museum’s best-known works.

The Schlichter work was also among the paint­ings the Mon­u­ments Men had found in Aschbach. One of their Ger­man col­leagues there, who later became the direc­tor of the Lenbach­haus, bought the work in the 1960 Ket­terer auction.

There are many exam­ples of works that Gurlitt acquired under ques­tion­able cir­cum­stances. There are also a num­ber of pic­tures hang­ing in Ger­man muse­ums today, from Hanover to Wies­baden, that were bought from Gurlitt. There are even pic­tures that Gurlitt bought for Hitler’s museum in Linz, which, because of their unclear ori­gins, became the prop­erty of the state. One such paint­ing, a land­scape by the clas­si­cist painter Jakob Philipp Hack­ert, hangs in the Ger­man For­eign Min­istry today.

Sev­eral paint­ings turned up in art gal­leries. One was August Macke’s “Woman with Par­rot,” an early work of Ger­man Cubism. It was shown in exhi­bi­tions in 1962 and later in 2001, in each case as part of a pri­vate col­lec­tion. In 2007, the work was sold at auc­tion in Berlin’s Villa Grise­bach auc­tion house for more than €2 mil­lion. Gurlitt’s daugh­ter Benita had appar­ently deliv­ered the paint­ing. She died in May 2012. . . .

11. Much of the art–including that acquired by Hildebrand Gurlitt, “Art Dealer to the Fuehrer”–was for the Fuehrermuseum in Linz, Austria. That museum was never built and the art acquired for it became part of the “carrot” allegedly bargained for in Aktion Feurland.

Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler by Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams; Sterling [HC]; Copyright 2011 by Simon Dunstan, Gerrard Williams and Spitfire Recovery Ltd.; ISBN 978-1-4027-8139-1; pp. 38-39. [12]

. . . . In the month following the Anschluss [annexation of Austria in 1938–D.E.], Hitler decided to create the greatest art museum inthe world in the city of Linz, close to his birthplace. The Fuhrermuseum was planned to become the repository for all the great works of art looted during the Nazi wars of conquest–except, of course, for those pieces diverted to the private collections of Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring, and a select few others of the Nazi elite. . . .

. . . . Within a few weeks [of the fall of France in 1940], a fabulous body of art had been assembled at the Louvre and the German embassy awaiting a decision as to final disposal. This included twenty-six “Jewish-owned works of degenerate art,” comprising fourteen Braques, seven Picassos, four Leges, and a Roualt, which were retained for “trading for artistically valuable works.” . . . .

12. The apparent Bormann/Dulles deal that cemented Aktion Feurland grew out of the negotiations between Allen Dulles and SS General Karl Wolff involving the surrender Axis forces in Italy. That was code-named Operation Sunrise [15] (later “Operation Crossword”). This deal allegedly involved the transfer to the Allies of priceless works of art taken from Florence’s celebrated Uffizi Gallery.

Ibid.; p. 123. [12]

. . . . Significantly, Wolff also submitted a list of art treasures from the Uffizi gallery in Dlorence that he was willing to return intact if the surrender talks prospered. . . .

13. Updating FTR #791 [16], we note the death of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of prominent Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. The younger Gurlitt was found to be in possession of a vast trove of artworks, valued at at $1.35 billion by some accounts.

Wall Street Journal article maintains that the elder Gurlitt was to be the director of Hitler’s Fuehrermuseum. Never built, the art for that intended institution comprised much of the art alleged by authors Simon Dunstan and Gerrard Williams to be at the center of the deal between Allen Dulles and Martin Bormann.

“German Art Collector in Nazi Loot Uproar Dies at 81 — Update” by Mary M. Lane; The Wall Street Journal; 5/6/2014. [17]

Cornelius Gurlitt, the octogenarian son of one of Adolf Hitler’s major art dealers, died in his Munich home on Tuesday morning, leaving the fate of his roughly 1,400 artworks unclear.

Legal questions now swarm surrounding how–and even if–looted works in the collection can now be restituted to Holocaust victims and their heirs.

Mr. Gurlitt, 81 years old, stepped from complete obscurity into world-wide prominence last fall after German media reports surfaced that Bavarian tax authorities had confiscated in early 2012 what is regarded as the largest-ever trove of Nazi-looted art in private hands.

The fact that the find remained unreported for nearly two years and the government’s refusal to put pressure on Mr. Gurlitt to return any looted artwork to heirs of their original owners drew international criticism of Germany from the U.S., France and Israel.

Mr. Gurlitt died in the presence of his doctor and caretakers, a few weeks after requesting that he return home from a Bavarian hospital where he had undergone intensive heart surgery, his spokesman said on Tuesday afternoon. The collector, who was never married and had no children, leaves no direct heir or known next of kin.

The trove included many unremarkable works on paper but also several valuable paintings. One of those, an Henri Matisse portrait that Matisse dealers say could fetch up to $20 million at auction, is being chased by the heirs of the late French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, including Anne Sinclair, a prominent journalist and ex-wife of former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

That painting and several other artworks were looted from Holocaust victims during World War II. It is unclear how the works ended up in the collection of Mr. Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, a successful Nazi-era dealer whom Hitler had tapped to lead his unrealized Führermuseum in Linz, Austria after the war.

German authorities came under fire from major Jewish leaders, including Ronald Lauder and Israeli and American officials because the trove, though confiscated in early 2012, the was kept secret for two years–even from the Bavarian justice minister–in violation of international norms on art restitution.

At the time, Bavarian tax authorities justified the decision to keep the works’ existence a secret because of their continuing investigation into Mr. Gurlitt’s finances. The Augusburg prosecutor’s office in charge of the investigation didn’t answer calls seeking comment.

Although that investigation will lapse now that Mr. Gurlitt is dead, fresh hurdles abound, mainly surrounding a simple question: who has inherited Mr. Gurlitt’s estate?

Christopher Marinello, a lawyer for the Rosenberg heirs, says the family will continue pursuing the case, but that “we’ll have to wait for the estate process to run its course.”

It is unclear, though, whom Mr. Marinello should even contact or who will be handling the estate process.

Given Mr. Gurlitt’s perpetually frail state of health, a German court appointed Munich-based lawyer Christoph Edel as his legal guardian late last year. But Mr. Edel’s position was “voided as soon as Mr. Gurlitt died,” his spokesman, Stephan Holzinger, told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Holzinger says he doesn’t even know if Mr. Gurlitt has a will and that his own contract will only continue for “the next few days.”

“The only guy who could give orders in [restituting art] was Mr. Edel, but now his job has ended,” said Mr. Holzinger. “The job right now is to find out what’s in the will–if there is a will.”

The lack of certainty about a finished will may in part be due to the tensions that have plagued Mr. Gurlitt’s own legal team since it came together earlier this year.

In January, The Journal reported that Mr. Gurlitt was willing to negotiate the return of works of art within the collection, but Mr. Gurlitt’s lawyer, Hannes Hartung, was fired soon afterward

Several families, including the Rosenberg heirs, complained that Mr. Hartung was unwilling to rule out a demand for monetary compensation for returning Nazi-looted art.

Last month tax authorities announced they would return Mr. Gurlitt’s artwork. Through his legal guardian, Mr. Gurlitt responded to international complaints by giving the government-appointed task force that had already been examining the provenance authority to spend a year researching it and helping arrange restitution for works that it determined were looted.

But even that task force is uncertain now with whom it should coordinate since Mr. Gurlitt is dead.

“We want to fulfill our duty to research this work as seriously as before,” said task force spokesman Matthias Henkel. “We are still working on determining with whom to speak now.”

14. Cornelius Gurlitt left his art trove–valued at around one $1.35 billion–to a Bern, Switzerland art museum. Switzerland was and is, of course, a major repository for much of the Bormann flight capital. One can but wonder if this museum has connections with the Bormann group.

Notice, also, that Gurlitt had a second residence in Salzburg, Austria. As discussed in FTR #791, the German authorities had no record of Cornelius Gurlitt. In a country where every citizen must register with the police of his or her residential area, this is unthinkable and indicative of some high-level chicanery.

“‘Nazi Art’ Hoarder Gurlitt Makes Swiss Museum Sole Heir”; BBC News; 5/7/2014. [18]

German Nazi-era art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt, who died on Tuesday, has made the Bern Art Museum in Switzerland his “sole heir”.

The reclusive son of Adolf Hitler’s art dealer is estimated to have amassed a collection worth up to a billion euros.

The museum said the news struck “like a bolt from the blue”, given that it had had no relationship with Mr Gurlitt.

The collection was the subject of a long legal dispute over works that may have been taken illegally by the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum said that it was delighted at the news that it had been made Mr Gurlitt’s “unrestricted and unfettered sole heir”, but added that the bequest also posed some questions.

“The Board of Trustees and directors of Kunstmuseum Bern are surprised and delighted, but at the same time do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature”, it said in a statement.

Mr Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was ordered to deal in works that had been seized from Jews, or which the Nazis considered “degenerate” and had removed from German museums.

The priceless collection was confiscated in 2012 by Bavarian authorities from the apartment of his son.

After initially refusing to give up the paintings, Mr Gurlitt changed his position, agreeing to co-operate with the German authorities on establishing the paintings’ provenance, and returning them if they were shown to be stolen.

‘Wild speculation’
Mr Gurlitt, who had no close relatives, wrote the will within the last few weeks shortly before undergoing heart surgery, according to his spokesman, Stephan Holzinger.

“It now falls to the probate court to determine if the will is valid and whether a contract of inheritance exists,” he told the BBC earlier on Wednesday.

“I can understand that there is now wild speculation, but I don’t want to comment on that at this stage.”

The German government said earlier that the collector’s death would not affect the investigation into ownerships claims on the paintings.

Mr Gurlitt’s collection only came to light after a routine check found he was carrying wads of cash on a train from Switzerland, triggering a tax inquiry.

Investigators found more than 1,400 works in his flat in Munich in February 2012 – though they only revealed the discovery in late 2013 – and a further 60 in his house near Salzburg, Austria, earlier this year. 

Among them were works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Emil Nolde and Max Liebermann.

The collection is estimated to be worth up to a billion euros (£850m; $1.35bn).

Under German law, Cornelius Gurlitt was not compelled to return any paintings because the incidents happened more than 30 years ago.