German Gov't Implicated in Nazi Art Scandal

The Jewiish Voice 8 January 2014
 By Rebecca Wiseman

The interior of the German Reichstag building, where two Nazi-confiscated works of art were discovered.

The interior of the German Reichstag building, where two Nazi-confiscated works of art were discovered.

The German daily newspaper Bild reported on Monday, December 30, 2013 that the German Parliament’s art collection, which houses some 4,000 pieces of art, may contain art that was confiscated by the Nazis.

Specifically, Bild reported that there are 108 works of art of “unknown provenance.” These works may have ties to infamous Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, whose collection was highly publicized in November in a scandal that in still unfolding the collection was just recovered by the German government and is being investigated.

Furthermore, two pieces of art are of particular interest, according to Bild, as an art historian is investigating them. The historian began researching the 108 questionable works in the parliament collection in 2012.

The two works being focused on are Georg Waltenberger’s 1905 “Chancellor Buelow speaking in the Reichstag” and a chalk lithography by Lovis Corinth “Street in Koenigsberg.” The paper Bilt singled these pieces out and claimed that “the Corinth work has ties to Gurlitt,” according to the Times of Israel.

Gurlitt was an art agent that the Nazis had authorized “to deal in the tens of thousands of artworks labeled “degenerate” by the Nazis that were collected in Germany and sold abroad. Gurlitt purchased art for Hermann Goering’s personal collection and Hitler’s planned Linz Fuehrermuseum.

Gurlitt dealt primarily in France, where he also accrued a massive personal collection, some of which was hidden until two years ago when police in a tax investigation case searched the Munich apartment of his son, Cornelius Gurlitt,” the Times of Israel explained.

The Gurlitt discovery of more than 1,400 works of various origins are currently under investigation by art historians including representatives from both Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference.

The Jewish Press reported on Tuesday, December 31, 2013, that “whether the Gurlitt tie is proven or a ploy for publicity, the question of the provenance of the parliament’s art collection is very real, and, says a Bundestag spokesperson, being addressed.”

And the spokesperson wrote a multi-paragraph refutation of the Bild article, “saying the piece contains false allegations. Namely, there is “no evidence” of a link to Gurlitt, and the government is not trying to whitewash these cases and has commissioned a lengthy investigation into the provenance of the parliament’s collection, which should be concluded and published in March or April 2014, according to the Times of Israel.

This is, however, not the first time Germany is being accused of not publishing relevant information. The Gurlitt case was broken to the public through a German Focus magazine expose only some 18 months after the trove’s find.

And historically, Germany has not systematically made available the “asset declarations” Jews in the Third Reich completed in 1938-9 listing their personal and professional possessions, said Bobby Brown, head of the Israel government’s initiative in Holocaust restitution/reparations, Project HEART.

Unlike Germany, Austria has systematically digitized all known declaration forms, which are stored in the country’s national archives and available via photostat upon request, said Brown in an interview with The Times of Israel last week.

In Germany one must be a veritable private detective to find the forms, which are not systematically stored or computerized. Often the forms are in town repositories or church attics among thousands of other historical documents, if they haven’t already been destroyed.

Post-war, said Brown, the German government should have collected them and made them available. “Germany did not have clean hands by not giving over information,” said Brown from Jerusalem.

“It’s not only about property,” said Brown, though he emphasized victims and heirs have the right to receive all relevant information so they may receive their rights and know their family’s heritage. “The asset declarations are basically a snapshot of the family’s history… So much more needs to be done.”
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