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They May Not Know Art, But They Know What They Like

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COMMENT: 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. Some points to consider in this context:

  • The handling of the case by the German authorities puzzled many onlookers and analysts. Among the oddities: ” . . . . 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? . . .”
  • 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. ” . . . . 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. . . .”
  • As discussed in Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile, looted art was part of the inventory of wealth that Nazi luminaries first hoarded, and then spirited away. (See pages 144, 145.)
  • 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.) ” . . .  Despite his seclusion, Mr. 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. . . . “
  • 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. ” . . . . 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. . . .”
  • 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? ” . . .  Soon after, he was detained there and questioned by members of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit of the United States military, 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. . . .”
  • 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? ” . . . . In 1956, Hildebrand Gurlitt died in a crash on the autobahn while racing from Berlin back to the family’s home in Düsseldorf . . . “
  • 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! ” . . . . 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.”
  • 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. ” . . . . 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 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. . . .”
EXCERPT: . . . . 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. . . .

 “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.

EXCERPT: . . . 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.

EXCERPT: 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. . . .


4 comments for “They May Not Know Art, But They Know What They Like”

    12/23/2013 05:15 PM
    Art Dealer to the Führer
    Hildebrand Gurlitt’s Deep Nazi Ties

    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.

    ‘Jewish Occupation of the Castle’

    In November 1945, the Americans established a Camp for Displaced Persons in Aschbach Castle. They were traumatized survivors of the Holocaust, many less than 20 years old, who had spent their youth in Jewish ghettos and concentration camps. They had lost their families, and when the war ended they left the camps in groups. They were young Jews with names like Tovia, Menachim, Minia and Zynia, and many were Zionists who had come together to establish a kibbutz.

    More than 140 individuals were housed in Aschbach between November 1945 and March 1948, although, at first, the Americans did not think the young Jews capable of farming the fields on the estate. There was hardly any contact between village residents and the Jews, even though a Jewish community had been established in Aschbach in the early 18th century. The last Aschbach Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942.

    Gurlitt did not mention the Jews in the castle. He kept his own children, who were only a few years younger than many of the survivors, away from Aschbach, sending his son and daughter to the elite Odenwaldschule boarding school.

    The Pölnitz family, whom the Americans ordered to vacate their estate, moved into a teacher’s apartment in the village. They were concerned that the residents of the camp would not treat their furniture with care. In a letter to the authorities, Baron von Pölnitz complained that “the Jews” were appropriating his property in a “wild frenzy” — and that his wife had fainted because of the “Jewish occupation of the castle.”

    Yehiel Hershkowitz was one of the Jews who lived in Aschbach at the time. He was 27 when he arrived at the castle on Nov. 20, 1945. His family was from Bedzin, a town in the Silesian Highlands of southern Poland that was known as Bendsburg during its Nazi occupation from 1939-1945. Hershkowitz was arrested in September 1939 and spent the next six years in 15 Nazi camps. He was freed when American soldiers liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945.

    He and his second wife, Esther Urman, met in Aschbach and then traveled to Israel together. Hershkowitz died in 1979, and his wife died 11 years later.

    Their son Benny is now 65 and lives near Tel Aviv. He says that his father had trouble sleeping, because he was kept awake at night by the memories of Nazi Germany.


    Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


    Related SPIEGEL ONLINE links:

    Monuments Men The Soldiers Who Saved Europe’s Art from Hitler (12/05/2013)
    Art Investigation ‘Empathy Alone Doesn’t Help Us Any Further’ (11/25/2013)
    Time Machine Munich Art Collector Lives in the Past (11/21/2013)
    Munich Art Trove Jewish Groups Criticize Plans to Return Paintings (11/21/2013)
    Gurlitt Works A Herculean Task in Identifying Provenance (11/19/2013)
    Interview with a Phantom Cornelius Gurlitt Shares His Secrets (11/17/2013)
    Phantom Collector The Mystery of the Munich Nazi Art Trove (11/11/2013)

    All Rights Reserved
    Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH

    Posted by Vanfield | December 26, 2013, 5:51 pm
  2. http://www.timesofisrael.com/will-victims-of-the-greatest-theft-in-history-finally-get-a-fair-hearing/

    Will victims of the greatest Nazi theft finally get a fair hearing?
    The staggering $1.4 billion Munich art scandal has swept the issue of Holocaust restitution back into world headlines. Now, Germany may legislate to allow heirs of such Nazi-looted art a much-belated chance for redress
    By Amanda Borschel-Dan December 27, 2013, 1:59 pm 5

    In the chaotic days ending World War II, the Allies quickly realized they had collected more than a million looted art objects from across the Third Reich. Some were found in rubble, others saved by the now legendary Monuments Men from a network of Nazi depots in far-flung monasteries and castles, including a huge trove in booby-trapped salt mines in rural Austria.

    With a mass of art and Judaica in hand, the Allied forces converted two Nazi administration buildings into collecting points in Munich, dubbed Gallery One and Gallery Two. It was hoped the art would be expeditiously documented and restored to institutions or individuals with passable provenance records.

    Makeshift catalog systems were created by the few staff members who understood the thorough research needed for restitution. Works were returned as early as fall 1945.

    Despite the best of intentions, resources were tight and mistakes made. Owners were dead and their scattered heirs impossible to find. The surviving heirs, struggling to forge a new life, were uninformed of their property rights and didn’t seek their family treasures.

    In Germany, by August 1948, the Allies relinquished control of the art to the German Trustee Administration for Cultural Property and restitution efforts continued there. Eventually most art was returned, aside from 2,300 works and some 10,000 coins and books, which are still today under German government custodial protection.

    Many of the 2,300 works are on long-term loan to museums, government buildings and institutions, which are ordered to continue the provenance research, and since the late 1990s, numerous claims have been made against them by would-be heirs with varied results.

    While modern-day Germany is currently drawing criticism from the international community over a lack of transparency and expediency following the shocking November publication of a controversial Munich art collection case (more on that later), legislators in Bavaria are attempting to amend statute of limitations laws, a move that just may open up art restitution claims against private individuals — an area relatively untouched by heirs.

    Last month Bavarian Justice Minister Winifred Bausback told leading German newspaper Der Spiegel his team was drafting legislation that would address “bad faith acquisitions” — namely forced sales or Nazi-tainted art — and prevent invoking the statute of limitations for these civil law claims.

    This week the German Culture Ministry confirmed the pending legislation and, raising the stakes, told The Times of Israel, “The federal government is going to look into the legislative initiative.”

    As to whether the notorious Munich collection would be open to claims under this new legislation, the ministry cryptically wrote, ”The German constitution will only allow repercussions of such a law within narrow, strict limits on those cases whose statute of limitations has already expired.”

    Hidden for 70 years and sold piecemeal to cover 81-year-old “owner” Cornelius Gurlitt’s ballooning medical bills, the collections is surrounded by legal questions that involve the expiration of the statute of limitations — and just whose property is it anyway?

    The legal ramifications are so complicated that, as German solicitor Peter Bert laughs, “If you had come up with this case as an exam question, people would say it’s a professor’s imagination gone wild.”
    The Schwabing collection

    In post-war Germany, one lucky recipient of some 140 “restituted” works from the hands of the Americans and Germans was art dealer/historian Hildebrand Gurlitt.

    A December 23 in-depth profile of Gurlitt in Der Spiegel portrays the dealer as a crafty swindler who double-dealt the Nazis and the Allies while carefully hoarding and protecting his own growing, valuable art collection.

    After being fired by the SS from his museum job in Nazi Germany, Gurlitt traded in art, mainly in Paris from 1941 to 1945, as one of four agents tasked by the Commission for the Exploitation of Degenerate Art with selling the modern art deemed un-nationalistic by the artistic Fuehrer. Gurlitt’s mission: to liquidate funds through the modern art’s sale and purchase masterpieces for Hermann Goering’s personal collection and Hitler’s planned Linz Fuehrermuseum.

    Skimming from his employers and performing unauthorized transactions, Gurlitt amassed more than 1,500 works for his private collection. Many, if not all, were purchased in coerced sales or confiscated from Jewish houses, or from artists and collectors of degenerate art.

    After the 1945 firebombing of his family home in Dresden, Gurlitt moved to an Aschbach castle of one Baron Gerhard von Pölnitz with wife Helene and children Cornelius and Benita. Also in residence at the manor was notorious Nazi art dealer Karl Haberstock, considered the most important of the Nazi art agents.

    The lord of the manor, Baron Pölnitz, according to the Der Spiegel report, had gone beyond his duties as an SS officer in Paris and aided the two art dealers in their work. By war’s end his house had turned into a refuge for works from nearby museums and private collections, including that of the two art dealers – and for the dealers themselves.

    When the Monuments Men arrived at the Aschbach castle in May 1945, they found an “enormous warehouse,” writes Der Spiegel.

    “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,” a member of the forces noted in mid-May.

    The Monuments Men documented then that they believed Gurlitt to be “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.”

    Somehow, however, after three years of house arrest in Aschbach, Gurlitt convinced the authorities both of his persecution under the Nazis for his Jewish heritage (his paternal grandmother was Jewish, and as a “mongrel” he would have faced Aryan race laws), and of the destruction of the majority of his art collection in the February 1945 firebombing in Dresden.

    In January 1948 Gurlitt moved the family to Dusseldorf, where he became the director of a museum, and in 1950 the Allies returned the confiscated 140 works. In secret, Gurlitt reunited them with other parts of his collection he had hidden in an old water mill.

    Gurlitt recommenced his art dealings, and in 1956, the year he would die in a car accident, he even showed paintings in New York. For the exhibit’s catalog, he wrote a bizarrely revisionist (unpublished) biography of his wartime experiences, depicting himself as heroic in his “dangerous balancing act.”

    Today, with the February 2012 discovery of 1,604 items during a tax investigation by police in his reclusive son Cornelius’s Munich apartment, Gurlitt’s “destroyed” private collection is spurring an international push for clear practices in art restitution in Germany.

    The collection, reportedly worth some $1.4 billion, was seized by Bavarian officials and held for 18 months until the German magazine Focus broke the story in November. There are reports of provenance documents also found in the apartment.

    Harshly criticized for negligence and lack of transparency in this case, the German government is setting up a task force, including two representatives from the Jewish Claims Conference and one from Israel, which will reportedly begin work in January. German provenance researchers already on the case are working toward cataloging and publicizing the problematic works online. Currently there are entries for some 442 items, including about 50 oil paintings.

    In some respects, the Munich scandal is the proverbial perfect storm, sweeping the issue of Holocaust restitution back to international headlines.

    “What happened here is a case where everything went wrong: The items are located in a jurisdiction that had no familiarity with these types of cases, and it is treating the matter as a criminal investigation, tax evasion, without paying attention to the overriding matter of Holocaust looted art,” says lawyer Chris Marinello, from Art Recovery International in London.

    Marinello represents the heirs of art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who worked with masters including Picasso, Braque and Matisse before Nazi persecution liquidated his collection and caused him to flee to the US. The family has a claim with the German authorities for the Matisse painting that has become the poster child of the ongoing investigation, “La Femme assise.”
    New law proposal

    It’s deja vu all over again, writes German lawyer Peter Bert, quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra on his blog, Dispute Resolution in Germany. A trained mediator, Bert spent time at Harvard as a researcher and has been a solicitor in Frankfurt since 1996. In 2003 he became licensed in England and Wales, when he joined Taylor Wessing’s Frankfurt office as partner.

    Bert explains that in 2001-2, a similar push was made for new legislation regarding the statute of limitations in Holocaust property restitution cases during a period of sweeping legislative reforms passed by Germany’s Upper Chamber, a section of parliament comparable to the US Senate that consists of representatives from each of the country’s states.

    “There was a strong feeling then that we ought to carve out in some way, shape or form restitution claims, be they Holocaust or Communist. The legislation would have been driven primarily by Nazi-looted art, but could have covered Soviet takings as well,” says Bert in a phone interview.

    “I think there were ten years of silence in which no one paid attention to the issue,” he adds.

    The reform package had covered other more mundane topics such as consumer protection and it was felt important enough to pass, even without inclusion of the statute of limitations reform. However, Bert says, the Upper Chamber in 2002 directed the federal government to come back with proposals for Holocaust properties, which, according to Bert, did not happen. (Austria, however, did successfully pass restitution legislation in 2002.)

    Bert offers two explanations for the silence: politically there was no motivation as this was a minority topic with no practical relevance to voters at the time. And, as noted by the Culture Ministry this week, there is a complex legal issue surrounding to what extent the constitution can be changed retroactively.

    A narrow reading of the current statute of limitations law would make the expiration date on Holocaust art restitution between 1975 and 1979, 30 years after most works were assigned owners. After removing the constraints of the 30-year statute of limitation, the crucial points in the new legislation in Bert’s opinion will be the legal definitions of bona fide, “acting without the intention of defrauding,” and “tainted.”

    Speculating on the chances that the legislation will passed on a federal level, Bert assumes it will; otherwise Bausback, the justice minister and a member of the Bavarian wing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, would not have proposed it.

    Merkel was elected in September to a historic third term and sworn in last week after reaching a deal with the Social Democrats to form what is being called a “grand coalition.”

    “If his party throws its support behind it, there would be support on a federal level,” says Bert, as soon as within the next few months. “If they do their homework and line up support, they could do it in six weeks.”

    “There is a good chance that the mistake that was made in 2001 gets rectified now,” he adds.
    What’s on the books today

    The new legislation is mainly for civil cases against individuals. Institutions have already been addressed, first with the basic early post-war legislation passed in the 1950s, and then in the “morally binding” charters with Germany’s 1999 signing of the Joint Declaration by the Federal Government based on the 1998 Washington Conference Principles.

    The issue of Holocaust reparations and restitution was a maelstrom in the mid- to late-1990s in the wake of several high-profile settlements with banks, insurance companies and other companies accused of using slave labor. The United States took the lead on drafting what are essentially rules of procedure for the international community to use in dealing with Nazi-tainted properties, creating the Washington Principles. In 2001, Germany drafted guidelines for institutions to use in provenance checks.

    To date, the only country that has enacted legislation based on the Washington Principles is Austria, says Dr. Wesley Fisher, the Claims Conference director of research and an expert on looted art. The Claims Conference has been the Jewish World’s legal representation in Germany since 1951. As a fledgling country focused on the present and future of the state, Israel in 1952 gave the Claims Conference authority in reparations negotiations with Germany.

    “After WWII there were attempts at dealing with this, but the most important matter was life and having enough to live on,” says Fisher, citing the Claims Conference’s successful negotiations for reparations.

    Restitution is another matter entirely: worldwide, restitution has been successful for about 20% of property owned by Jews prior to WWII.

    Ahead of the 2009 Prague Conference on Holocaust Era Assets, the Claims Conference wrote an overview of the international community, and Germany, along with three others, was one of the top-ranked countries for restitution efforts. ”It’s not as if the Germans haven’t done anything,” he says.

    “In Germany the practice has been to act as if the Washington Principles are part of the law,” says Fisher.

    He notes, though, that art is more complex than other property claims. “You’re talking about objects which are unique and need to be found. They are movable and can be anywhere in the world. They’re not easily dealt with in monetary compensation, unlike bank accounts, and there’s also a specific emotional attachment to families and communities.”

    “My impression is that as the survivors are passing, the objects are becoming even more important,” says Fisher.

    Fisher, who has worked in the field for decades and was a founding director of research at the US Holocaust Museum, sees what he calls “back-pedaling” among institutions that once adhered to the Washington Principles but now are using loophole defenses in retaining their questionable art.

    Prof. Julius Schoeps of the Moses Mendelssohn center in Potsdam agrees, saying, “Politicians say it’s necessary to give the art back; it’s the museums that don’t want to.”

    The historian has been fighting internationally, along with 29 other descendents of philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, for the collection of Berlin banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. There are several of these disputed works on the walls of German museums and institutions.

    Schoep’s proposal, which he’s been touting on television and newspapers, is for Germany to legislate for Holocaust restitution, which has been an uphill battle.

    “Most of the [German] people say ‘Go to hell!’ when they are asked for restitution,” says Schoeps.

    “The problem is we are discussing such problems now, but the problems are 70 years old,” says Schoeps. The academic says there is a feeling of “exhaustion” among the German people in the continual revisiting of Holocaust-related subjects.

    “The people of Germany are tired of dealing with the Nazi past; they say it must come to an end now. But this is the property of people who were murdered or fled Germany. It is necessary,” says Schoeps.

    The Claims Conference’s Fisher is hopeful the Munich collection will serve as “a kind of wake-up call” and keep things on track toward identification and restitution.

    “You’ll notice in some statements by [President of the Jewish Congress Ronald] Lauder and [Special Advisor to the US Secretary on Holocaust Issues Stuart] Eizenstat, two things come to fore: The need for Germany to create some sort of government commission that deals with this as a whole, and there is a discussion about the need to do something about the statute of limitations, in Germany, but also in the US,” says Fisher.

    The greatest theft in history

    Though not the sweeping commission envisioned by some, Germany is setting up a task force of international provenance researchers in the wake of the Munich scandal that will begin working next month. The Claims Conference will have representation and, in what is seen by some as a diplomatic victory, so will Israel.

    “We are more concerned that the procedures by that task force be improved as a political matter, than by the politics of it,” says Fisher. He hopes the research process will be transparent for all works of art, not just those currently deemed suspect, and that the art be open to claimants. There should be clear reports published periodically and a non-bureaucratic process where claimants can ask for their artworks back, including an appeals process.

    Earlier this month the Israel government through Project HEART, an Israeli governmental/JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel) project to locate Holocaust heirs and assist in obtaining restitution founded in 2011, proposed two candidates for the Munich task force: an art expert from Yad Vashem and a restitution and art expert from the Israel Museum.

    Getting an Israeli on the task force is an important milestone, says Project HEART head Bobby Brown.

    “The Holocaust was not only the greatest murder in history, but also the greatest robbery. More art was stolen during the Holocaust than existed in the US at the same time,” says Brown.

    “We are of the opinion that Holocaust survivors and their heirs have a legitimate right to ask for property at any time,” says Brown.

    The idea of a statute of limitations is preposterous, says Brown, especially in new finds such as the Munich case. Often new information becomes available, and during the legal statute of limitations, the survivors weren’t physically, psychologically, or even morally prepared to take what was rightfully theirs.

    “How could someone make a claim if they were just found?” he asks. “How much would you spend on finding art that no one knows exists?”

    Project HEART, under the auspices of the Ministry of Senior Citizens and Minister Uri Orbach in cooperation with JAFI, approaches foriegn governments as a representative of the government of Israel and asks for legislative changes, rather than working the existing legal systems as private lawyers do. Its mandate is to represent the citizens of Israel as well as any Jews worldwide who approach it.

    With an annual budget of $2.5 million, there are no fees involved and all potential monies go directly to survivors or their heirs, says Brown.

    “Too many organizations have done good deeds or less than good deeds on the penny of the Holocaust survivors. Our position is give back to those who own the thing the maximum. We get nothing but satisfaction,” says Brown.
    A race against time

    Not all lawyers are making a buck on the backs of survivors. American lawyer Chris Marinello, now based in London, has successfully negotiated many small Holocaust restitution claims pro bono. Today, however, he and his firm are representing one of the most important heirs in the Holocaust art restitution world, the family of art dealer Paul Rosenberg.

    Since the publication of the Munich collection, he has been in direct contact with the task force of what he calls eminent art historians and leaders in the restitution field. And, like other lawyers of claimants, he has faced stonewalling and been told to have patience.

    “My client in 94 years old and she doesn’t want to be told to have patience,” says Marinello.

    Unlike most, Paul Rosenberg fled the Nazi regime with his archives intact. “As soon as the image [of Matisse’s ‘La Femme assise’] was released we were able to produce documentation,” says Marinello, rattling off a laundry list of documents. ”We have a receipt, entry cards when the Nazis entered to loot, we know which Nazi-collaborating dealers handled it, which collecting points. We have affidavits from the family continuing their search, documenting the work is missing… All of which were produced to the task force.”

    Marinello notes the Gurlitt case is complicated by the criminal tax investigation, and wonders, as a worst-case scenario, even if the special art task force agrees the Matisse was looted, will the heir be required to file a civil case against Gurlitt?

    “Many people who would like to see this case go away are dragging their feet,” says Marinello.

    This wouldn’t be the first time. In researching a book about the mathematics of compensation, retired Israeli journalist Raul Teitelbaum, a Holocaust survivor, says he found two-thirds of survivors died before their compensation cases were resolved. In “The Biological Solution,” Teitelbaum writes that less than a third of survivors received any recompense at all.

    Additionally, for many survivors interested in art restitution who may not be the heirs to famous works by Matisse, says Teitelbaum, “Sometimes finding the art costs more than the art is worth.”

    Over the past 70 years, he has found that compensation from Germany is a “long procedure of stopgaps and patches” that depends on political incentives and international pressure. In the 1950s, Germany needed the legitimacy of the international community and the Jews. “Today, we need Germany,” says Teitelbaum.

    And Germany needs to lead what Project HEART’s Brown calls a “final push.” “We feel the country has a a special obligation for restitution that needs to be put on turbo for the next 15 or 20 years that the survivors will still be alive,” he says.

    No process has been or will be perfect justice, says Brown. “We are working toward the most justice that may be achieved at this time. If we can get better justice in five years, there’s a heavy price to pay for that,” he says.

    But in a Germany that is holding all the cards, lawyers are finding it increasingly difficult to get what they feel is a fair hearing.

    Juan Carlos Emden’s mother died in April at 99 before the German federal Finance Ministry decided after nine years what it would do with the two works by 18th-century painter Bernardo Bellotto the family is claiming were lost in forced sales by her father Max Emden.

    “We were hoping to have this case settled for her but justice has been lost for her,” says well-known New York-based restitution lawyer Mel Urbach, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

    Max Emden fled Germany with his art collection in 1933 when Hitler came to power. The family was historically powerful and wealthy, with land and property in several countries, including Switzerland where Emden sought refuge.

    “When the Nazis came to power he made a decision to stay in Switzerland, but never set up shop there. His business was left behind in Hamburg. The Nazis financially ruined him, forcing him to sell his stores and real estate. By 1937 he had run out of money and started selling his art collection,” says Juan Carlos Emden via conference call from Chile.

    The Bellotto paintings, it would appear, were sold below market value in 1937-8 via the German-Jewish art dealer Annie Caspari, from whom Emden had purchased them in 1928-9.

    In 1937, says Juan Carlos Emden’s German lawyer Markus Stoetzel, Caspari learnt of Emden’s financial troubles and that he was desperately trying to sell the paintings at a fair price.

    But Caspari was also in trouble, only allowed to work in a limited extent after 1933, and had been enlisted by the notorious art agent Haberstock to aid him in purchasing works from near destitute Jews for Hitler’s planned Linz museum.

    “We have the complete documentary of her correspondence with Emden and Haberstock,” says Stoetzel. Caspari’s work permit was withdrawn in 1943 and she was deported and murdered.

    The two Bellotto paintings weren’t claimed by an heir post-WWII — Max Emden’s only son Hans, Juan Carlos’s father, had fled to South America. They became part of the 2,300 custodial works kept by the German government and loaned to institutions.

    Worth an estimated $2.5 million each, the Associated Press reports Bellotto’s ”The Zwinger Moat in Dresden” is currently on exhibit at the Museum for Military History and a panorama of Vienna is in storage at the Kunstpalast museum in Duesseldorf.

    The German Finance Ministry wrote The Times of Israel last week that the Emden case, like several others, is not covered by the Washington Principles because he managed to take his art with him and sales were not conducted in Germany — as was already decided in a case in the United States.

    “The National Gallery of Art in Washington has refused the restitution of the paintings ‘Saint Mary Salome and Her Family’ and ‘Saint Mary Cleophas and Her Family’ to the heirs of Max Emden in a comparable case with the same legal opinion, as the paintings were also sold through Max Emden in Switzerland,” writes a Finance Ministry spokesperson.

    He adds that the German Federal Government’s appeals committee dealt with the case in 2012. For the Finance Ministry, there is no need for appeal as the legal situation is clear. The ministry does not wish to pursue the case “out of respect for the parliamentary decision not to act on this matter.”

    But heir Juan Carlos Emden is not new to the world of art restitution. He told The Times of Israel this week he has not ruled out a civil law suit in this matter, saying he and his lawyers, Urbach and partner Stoetzel, will decide strategy next week.

    For personal as well as professional reasons, Urbach and Stoetzel’s law practices center around Holocaust restitution, both with a sense of tikkun olam.

    “Is Germany really willing to keep such an unhealthy, unholy collection as the Hitler collection? I don’t think that this is something I as a German can be proud of,” says soft-spoken Stoetzel.

    Interestingly, Urbach and Stoetzel represented the Jewish heirs in the restitution negotiation of what appears to be Gurlitt’s final sale. “The Lion Tamer” by German artist Max Beckmann garnered $1.17 million at a 2011 Cologne auction. Gurlitt gave 45% to the heirs of the original owner, Alfred Flechtheim, a Jewish art dealer whose galleries were looted by Nazis.

    As the Emden case received an unfavorable ruling last week, the Flechtheim heirs won another victory in Cologne. Upcoming for Urbach and Stoetzel is a mid-January hearing on the $200 million Guelph collection.

    “Germany now in a situation where the Germans need to make a decision. There are many people out there who have their hearts in the right place, but the overall situation is there is no real will to go a step further and provide people all over the world with a binding process or resolution,” says Stoetzel.

    Posted by Vanfield | December 29, 2013, 12:36 pm
  3. http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Report-Nazi-looted-art-found-in-German-parliament-336571

    Report: Nazi-looted art found in German parliament
    12/30/2013 17:41

    BERLIN – An art historian has found two art works stolen by the Nazis inside Germany’s parliament, a newspaper reported on Monday, in a new embarrassment for authorities after a huge stash of looted art came to light last month.

    The Bundestag, in a statement issued after the report in Bild newspaper, said an art historian was reviewing two “suspicious cases”, but a spokesman would not confirm the find.

    The art historian’s investigations into the German parliament’s art collection, which began in 2012, were continuing, the Bundestag spokesman said.

    “It is unclear when there will be a result to the investigations,” he said.

    Last month German authorities revealed that a trove of Nazi-looted art, valued at 1 billion euros ($1.38 bln), had been found in a Munich apartment.

    That collection had been held for decades by Cornelius Gurlitt, the elderly son of an art dealer of part-Jewish descent who was ordered by Hitler to buy up so-called ‘degenerate art’ and sell it to raise funds for the Nazis.

    Bild newspaper said one of the two works discovered in the Bundestag collection had also originally belonged to the Gurlitt family.

    Bild said the two works were an oil painting, ‘Chancellor Buelow speaking in the Reichstag’, by Georg Waltenberger dated 1905, and a chalk lithography entitled ‘Street in Koenigsberg’ by Lovis Corinth.

    The Nazis plundered hundreds of thousands of art works from museums and individuals across Europe. An unknown number of works is still missing and museums around the world have conducted investigations into the origins of their exhibits.

    German authorities came under fire for keeping quiet for two years about the discovery of Gurlitt’s trove of 1,406 European art works which included works by Picasso and Matisse.

    The legal status of the hoard is unclear. Gurlitt has demanded his art back and lawyers working on reclaiming property for heirs to Jewish collectors say he may get to keep at least some.

    The Bundestag’s art collection comprises around 4,000 works and Bild said investigations had found some 108 pieces so far of unknown provenance.

    About four years ago, it returned a portrait of former German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in a hat by Franz von Lenbach to its original owners after it was found to have been stolen by the Nazis.

    The Central Council of Jews in Germany called for a list of the Bundestag’s art works to be published.

    “If the Bundestag is keeping lists of its collection secret, hindering the press in its investigations, protecting the perpetrators of Ayranisation and not informing the heirs, I would wish those responsible to show more sensibility and tact,” Council President Dieter Graumann told Bild.

    Posted by Vanfield | December 30, 2013, 9:17 am
  4. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/arts/international/heirs-sue-bank-over-sale-of-nazi-looted-art-.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A9%22}&_r=0

    Heirs Sue Bank Over Sale of Nazi-Looted Art

    By PATRICIA COHENOCT. 17, 2014

    When Christie’s auctioned off Edgar Degas’s “Danseuses” for nearly $11 million in 2009, the catalog noted that the masterpiece was being sold as part of a restitution agreement with the “heirs of Ludwig and Margret Kainer,” German Jews whose vast art collection was seized by the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II.

    But now a dozen relatives of the Kainers are stepping forward to object. Not only did they fail to benefit from that sale, they say they were never even told about it, or any other auctions of works once owned by the couple, including pieces by Monet and Renoir.

    It turns out that the Kainer “heir” that has for years collected proceeds from these sales and other restitutions, including war reparations from the German government, is not a family member but a foundation created by Swiss bank officials.

    In lawsuits filed in New York and Switzerland, the Kainer relatives contend that officers of the bank — now part of the global banking giant UBS — never made a diligent effort to find them, and worse, used the family name to create a “sham” foundation ostensibly organized to support the health and education of Jewish youth but actually formed, they say, to cheat them out of their inheritance.

    Both the foundation — named after Norbert Levy, Mrs. Kainer’s father — and UBS have said in court papers that they have done nothing wrong, but declined to comment. The lawsuits come as high-profile disputes over looted art focus attention on how courts and governments have handled assets stolen from Jews by the Nazis. Despite the scrutiny, this case shows just how difficult adjudicating such claims remains. The Kainer family lawsuits, for example, involve the legal systems of four countries and rest on the intentions and actions of people who have been dead for many decades. Like many families who survived the Holocaust, the Kainer descendants were not even aware that their relatives had lost or left behind valuables to which they might have a claim. As experts note, the ability to track family members has made great leaps over the years. This case only came to light when Mondex Corporation, which helps recover looted property, noticed in 2009 that hundreds of works once owned by the Kainers had been listed in an international database of art lost in the war years, and then tracked down their relatives.

    Then there is the added drama that the New York lawsuit names UBS as a defendant, striking a sensitive chord. UBS, the result of a 1998 merger between Swiss Bank Corporation and the Union Bank of Switzerland, was one of several Swiss banks accused of trying to block attempts by Jewish war survivors and heirs to reclaim assets deposited in what they had thought were safe havens.

    The Kainer family’s dealings with Swiss banks stretches back to the period before Hitler grabbed power. Margret Kainer and her father relied on the Swiss Bank Corporation to manage their fortunes. Before his death in 1928, Mr. Levy, a Berlin metals dealer, set up a foundation to benefit his only daughter. He trusted the Swiss bank so much that in the foundation’s bylaws he required a bank director to be one of its two trustees.
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    When the Nazis seized control in Germany a few years later, Margret and her husband, Ludwig, a well-known artist and illustrator who designed sets for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, fled to France.

    The Germans ended up confiscating much of the Kainers’ extensive holdings, which included real estate, securities, bank accounts and a world-class art collection that contained works by Goya, Ingres and Renoir as well as Chinese ceramics and ancient Egyptian sculptures, according to court papers.

    Out of the Nazis reach, however, was the Norbert Levy Foundation, based in Switzerland. The foundation provided regular payments to the couple: 800 Swiss francs a month (about $2,800) until the money ran out in 1944, court papers say.

    Most of Margret’s relatives were not as lucky. At least four were killed in the Holocaust, said Max Corden, a great-nephew of Norbert Levy, now 87, who is a party to the lawsuit.

    After the war, the Kainers, who had briefly sought refuge in Switzerland, moved back to Paris where Mr. Kainer died in 1967, followed by Mrs. Kainer in 1968. Since they were childless, the rightful heirs, the lawsuits contend, are the 12 children and grandchildren of Mrs. Kainer’s cousins. The foundation, they say, was legally terminated with Mrs. Kainer’s death.

    What happened next is at the crux of the legal dispute. Did bank officials make a good-faith effort to track down family heirs after the couple died?

    The Kainer relatives say no. They charge in court papers that even a cursory search would have turned up the names of relatives who had contacted the bank in 1947 and 1950 to ask about arranging for help from the foundation. A diligent effort, they say, would also have included contacting the International Tracing Service of the Swiss-based Red Cross, which was created specifically to find missing and displaced people. Family members, the court papers say, were listed with the service.

    What bank officials did do was post a notice seeking heirs for three months of 1969 in a local governmental journal published by the Swiss state of Vaud, where the Kainers maintained a legal address.

    Experts acknowledge that in those days, few institutions initiated the kind of full-bore efforts to find heirs that are considered standard now.

    “There were different expectations of what was required,” said Anna Rubin, the director of New York State’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office. She noted that genealogical research was less advanced, and that digital databases did not exist.

    Still, experts said a basic search would have included contacting the Red Cross. A more thorough attempt, they say, would have involved Jewish organizations and a registration office in Germany, where Margret Kainer was born.

    The question of who qualified as an heir languished until 1970, when West Germany, as part of a postwar settlement, finally agreed to pay the family a lump sum as restitution (the exact amount is unclear). But the money would be forfeited if there were no legal heirs.

    Since the bank had not located any family members, Dr. Albert Genner, a Swiss Bank Corporation director who had personally known Norbert Levy, came up with a plan to revive the foundation in order to get the payout. In a memo dated Dec. 21, 1970, and stamped “Private,” Dr. Genner advocated resurrecting the foundation to function as the Kainers’ legal successor, so that “a claim could be constructed.” The foundation’s purpose, Dr. Genner wrote, would be to help educate children, preferably “of Jewish heritage from prewar Germany,” who “for health reasons” needed to attend school in Vaud’s favorable climate.

    What no one understood at the time was just how valuable the Kainer estate really was. Over the last decade and a half, millions of dollars in misplaced assets and recovered art have surfaced. The biggest bonanza came after Swiss officials discovered a lost portfolio worth more than $19 million, according to public records in Switzerland. Swiss officials said they, too, were unable to find Kainer descendants despite multiple searches and claimed the windfall. After the Norbert foundation objected, they ultimately negotiated a settlement in 2005 under which the foundation received $5.6 million. (The Kainer family is suing the municipalities of Vaud and Pulley in Switzerland to recover the rest.)

    In recent years, the foundation has collected at least $11 million, including $1.8 million from the 2009 “Danseuses” settlement and proceeds from the sale of at least three other stolen works by Monet and Renoir. (Hundreds of other Kainer collection paintings are still unaccounted for.)

    Given those assets, the question of how much has been spent by the foundation on Jewish students remains unclear.

    Tracking the activities of a foundation in Switzerland can be difficult, because, unlike the situation in the United States, financial information is not necessarily open to the public. Lawyers for the foundation and its president, Edgar Kircher, declined to discuss its finances or comment on the accusations.

    But the minutes of nine annual board meetings held between 1990 and 2008, and gathered by Moneyhouse, a Swiss data and information service, give some sense of the organization’s reported finances.

    For example, in 2008, the last year for which minutes are available, the board reported that it planned to award $8,570, divided among three students. That year, the board also discussed removing the foundation’s investments from UBS’s management because of poor performance.

    “I haven’t found any evidence that they’ve given any significant money to anybody,” said James Palmer, the founder and former president of Mondex. There is, however, no evidence that the board members have taken anything but minor reimbursements for their services.

    The board has been controlled since its creation in 1971 by current and former bank officials or their spouses. For the past 25 years, Mr. Kircher, an executive with UBS, has been its president or served on its board. Since 1992, the foundation has been run out of his home.

    Lawyers for UBS said in court papers that the company has no relationship with the foundation and is merely a bystander in this case. Margaret Stinson, a spokeswoman for UBS, declined to comment further.

    In court papers, the foundation has maintained that, under the terms of Norbert Levy’s will, it has a legal right to the assets it collected.

    Mrs. Kainer’s cousin, Mr. Corden, a retired economist, scoffed at such suggestions. In an email, he said he was “outraged” by the conduct of Swiss bank officials and the foundation. He said he is not looking to profit personally from the lawsuit, as he and his family no longer are in need.

    “If I get any money,” he said, “I shall give most or all to good causes.”
    Correction: October 21, 2014

    An earlier version of this article misstated James Palmer’s connection to the Mondex Corporation. He is the founder and former president, not the president. (Kamila Gourdie now holds that position.)

    Posted by Vanfield | October 21, 2014, 2:06 pm

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