Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Assets (Comissão Especial de Apuração de Patrimônios Nazistas)
April 1997-January 1999
The Commission was set up by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on 7 April 1997 under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice, which provided administrative and financial support. The commission met once a month in Brasilia and was composed of seven members appointed by the President of the Republic: three lawyers, one historian, the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Finance, a high-ranking official at the Foreign Ministry, and Rabbi Sobel, the Senior Rabbi of the local Jewish community. The Minister of Justice monitored the Commission's activities.
The Commission's timeframe was only a year; however, its activity was extended by ministerial request until January 1999, when it ceased to exist, due to inconclusive evidence and to lack of funding. The principal aims of the Commission were: to investigate the importation into Brazil and the existence in Brazil of assets illicitly confiscated from Nazi-regime victims and to ascertain their value, origin, and destination. The Commission was given extensive powers, enabling it to request information from any public or private institution in Brazil and to make enquiries abroad, through suitable diplomatic channels. It was also authorized to promote investigations and instigate any audits deemed necessary, to examine witnesses and to request technical advice.
During its activity, on the basis of information supplied by the World Jewish Congress, the Commission sought more than a hundred works of art which had been looted by Nazi Germany and exported and sold in Brazil between the 1940s and the 1970s.
Lists of suspect works of art were drawn up in the Museum of Art of Sao Paulo, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Art of Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre. But controversy surrounded the Commission's work: local art dealers questioned its ability to document art confiscated or looted by the Nazis and museum officials defended their collections. It is not known if the lists are available to researchers.
In August 1997 the Brazilian Commission estimated that circa $20,000 was
deposited in the Bank of Brazil and that between 1940 and 1960 1,200 to 1,500
Nazis emigrated to Brazil.
Approximately fifteen dormant Nazi accounts were discovered at the Bank of Brazil, formerly the Central Bank of the Government, amounting to approximately $5 million.
Two paintings by Monet and a 1925 painting by Picasso, Pierrot , formerly in the collection of Paul Rosenberg, were voluntarily placed under the protection of the Commission by their owners, after it was found that the provenance was dubious, since they had been sold by the representative in São Paulo of the Swiss Fischer Gallery, Austrian art dealer Thadeus Grauer.
Thadeus Grauer lived in Brazil during and after World War II, where he represented the Swiss Galerie Fischer situated in Lucerne, a notorious clearing house of Nazi looted art and the object of wartime Allied investigations carried out by the OSS at the end of the war.
Rabbi Henry Sobel (a member of the National Commission)
Congregação Israelita Paulista
Rua Antonio Carlos, 653
01309-011 São Paulo, SP
Tel: +55 (0)11 3218 1299
Fax: +55 (0)11 3257 1446
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
<http://www.ushmm.org>, accessed on 4 October 2002
The Stephen Roth Institute, Tel Aviv University, Israel
<http://www.tau.ac.il> accessed 24 April 2002
Rochelle G. Saidel, "Brazil hunts for art looted by Nazis", Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), 9 Ocotober 1998