Nazi-looted art rescued by the US military’s “Monuments Men” was not returned to its rightful Jewish owners at the end of the war but sold for profit by the Bavarian authorities, according to explosive new claims.
Thousands of works of art looted by the Nazis were recovered by American forces and entrusted to the Bavarian state government in 1949.
But instead of returning the works to their rightful owners, the Bavarian authorities kept several to display in government buildings and sold others at auction, according to a report in Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
In several cases, the art works were sold to the families of Nazi war criminals.
The real-life “Monuments Men” were the inspiration behind the film starring George Clooney and Matt Damon.
The real life "Monuments Men" were the inspiration for the 2014 film starring George Clooney and Matt Damon
A small unit of art historians tasked with saving Europe’s cultural heritage from destruction in the Second World War, they served on the front line alongside American troops.
They tracked down more than 10,000 works of art looted from mostly Jewish owners by the Nazis.
When US forces withdrew from Germany in 1949, these works were handed over to the new Bavarian state government for return to their rightful owners.
But an investigation by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, an NGO based in London, discovered that many of the works were never returned.
‘Picture of a Dutch Square’, a 300-year-old copy of a painting by the Dutch artist Jan van der Heyden looted from a Jewish collector in Vienna was not returned to his family.
Instead it was sold to Henriette Hoffmann, the daughter of Hitler’s personal photographer and ex-wife of Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi governor of Vienna, who was convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials.
Hoffmann sold the painting a few months later for a considerable profit to Xanten Cathedral, where it hangs today. She died in 1992.
The real life Monuments Men rescuing artworks from Buxheim Monastery in Bavaria
In another instance, a copy of a Canaletto from Hitler’s private collection was not returned to its rightful owners but instead hangs in the German Parliament Association’s offices in Bonn, the former capital.
Another looted painting from Hermann Göring’s private collection was not returned but hangs in an official government guest-house.
The Bavarian State Art Collection has not cooperated with investigations and has refused historians and the families of former Jewish owners access to its archives, Süddeutsche Zeitung alleged.
“All governmental agencies are required by law to make their documents accessible. And the State Art Collection is a governmental agency,” Margit Knom-Marcon, director of the Bavarian State Archive, told the newspaper.
“But we do not have a single document from the State Art Collection’s archive.”
The failure to return artworks rescued by the Monuments Men is likely to cause disquiet in the US.
Stuart Eizenstat, special adviser on Holocaust issues to the US secretary of state, has previously called on Germany to do more to restitute looted artworks.
“It is important that Germany researches the history of looted art,” he has said.