Russia holding war-looted Polish artefacts

The First News 22 January 2020

Paintings and priceless documents, including items from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German concentration camp, are being kept in Russian storage facilities, Monday's Rzeczpospolita daily reported.

In an article published by Rzeczpospolita on Friday Deputy Prime Minister, Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said that Russia has never given back artworks taken by the Red Army during World War II. Glinski added that Poland's Ministry of Culture had submitted 20 applications to Moscow for the return of plundered items of cultural and historic importance.

"In reality we don't know what is being kept in storage by Russian museums and archives as access to these places is difficult," a source connected to the tracking of artworks which were lost during WWII told the paper. The restitution claims by Poland include items traced by diplomats and academics. The list of claims includes documents and artefacts from the former Nazi German concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The newspaper wrote that the claim for the return of the Auschwitz-Birkenau items was prepared by the Ministry of Culture and submitted to Moscow, along with a diplomatic note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, several years ago. The Auschwitz items include orders by the camp commandant, documents relating to prisoners and the SS units running the camp. Polish historians have established that the Auschwitz items exist in three Russian archives.

According to museologists, Russia should adhere to the rules set by the so-called Wansee Memorandum, which states that artefacts from former concentration camps should be kept at the sites and that the archives should be accessible.

The restitution claims by Poland also include artworks taken by Soviet Trophy Brigades at the end of the war. The Trophy Brigades included Russian art historians who selected artworks, books and cultural items to be taken back to Russia.

In total it is estimated that the Soviet brigades plundered millions of books and a million artworks from Poland. After the end of the war only a small percentage of the looted items were returned to Poland.
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