German Police Discover 1,500 Masterpieces Seized by Nazis in Munich Apartment

Works by Picasso, Matisse, Klee and others were considered 'degenerate' by the Nazis and confiscated from their Jewish owners.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Works by several of the greatest artists of the modern age have been held at a secret location near Munich for the past two years, after having been discovered in a raid by the German authorities on the apartment of an elderly man accused of tax fraud.

The 1,500 pieces include works by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Klee. According to the German magazine, Focus, which broke the story, their total value is in the region of 1 billion Euros.

The works are believed to have belonged to Jewish collectors and considered "degenerate" before World War II and to have been confiscated by the Nazis. Many were considered lost until now. They were purchased during the 1930s and 1940s by the German art dealer Hildebrandt Gurlitt, who was an associate of the Nazi leadership.

Gurlitt's son Cornelius, 80, kept them for half a century in a dark room in his apartment, following his father's death in 1956. He is believed to have sold off some of the works to support himself.

Cornelius Gurlitt was stopped during a routine check by the tax authorities in 2010, while returning to Munich from Switzerland. The check led to the launch of an investigation for tax evasion and a search of Gurlitt’s home in 2011, during which the works were discovered.

Investigators told the German media that Gurlitt was a recluse, and did not resist the raid or the confiscation of the art.

The discovery has been kept from the public until now for fear of a diplomatic and legal struggle to restore them to their rightful owners and heirs, according to the website of the weekly Der Spiegel.

According to an examination by Berlin art historian Meike Hoffmann, at least 300 of the works were deemed “degenerate” by the Nazis.

After the raid but before the artworks were seized, Cornelius Gurlitt sold a piece by Max Beckmann named "Lion Tamer, Circus" for 864,000 Euros via a Cologne auction house, Focus reported.

One of the best pieces in the collection is said to be "Portrait of a Lady" by Matisse, which once belong to French collector Paul Rosenburg. Rosenburg, who lost his collection when he fled for his life during the fall of Paris, was the grandfather of Anne Sinclair, the former wife of the disgraced head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Miss Sinclair has been a prominent campaigner for the return of art looted by the Nazis to their former owners.

Cover of Focus magazine that broke the story
Goebbels views the 'Degenerate Art' exhibition in Berlin in 1937.Credit: Wikipedia Commons



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott