German Collector to Keep Nazi-era Art Works Not Stolen From Jews

An estimated 970 of the 1,400 works of art discovered in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt were stolen from Jews during the Third Reich.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Works of art that were looted during the Nazi era and confiscated from a German art collector two years ago will be returned to their original owners, while those obtained legally will remain with the collector, the state prosecutor in Augsburg, Germany, said on Tuesday.

The art works were taken by the government from the Munich apartment of collector Cornelius Gurlitt in February 2012. Those that were obtained legally will be returned to Gurlitt.

Augsburg’s state prosecutor, Reinhardt Nemetz, stated that a team had been convened to investigate the works of art and that works that had not been stolen from Jews or museums during the Nazi era would be returned to Gurlitt “as soon as possible.”

The works of art confiscated from 81-year-old Gurlitt’s apartment include paintings by Marc Chagall, Henri Mattise, Otto Dix, and Max Lieberman. Although they were discovered and confiscated in early 2012, the German media only learned of their existence earlier this month.

A task force of 10 experts is currently working to uncover the origins of the paintings. The team consists of reserarchers from Germany and around the world, a representative of the state prosecutor’s office and two representatives from the Claims Conference, a Jewish organization that works for the return of stolen property to the families of Holocaust victims, Der Spiegel reported.

There are suspicions that 970 out of the 1,400 works of art in question were stolen from Jews during the period of the Third Reich. Efforts are currently underway to find the descendants of those owners and return the works of art. Some 400 other paintings from the collection were found to belong to Gurlitt, the son of a well-known German art collector from the Nazi era.

In an interview with Der Spiegel published earlier this week, Gurlitt said that he wants all of the paintings to be returned and that he will not give up even one of them. “Why couldn’t they leave the paintings with me, and take only the ones they wanted to investigate? Now they are in some basement somewhere and I’m alone,” said Gurlitt. “I’m convinced that the state prosecutor will find what to give back to me. I committed no crime. And even if I did, the statute of limitations is up. If I were guilty, they would have put me in jail,” he continued.

A news conference on Cornelius Gurlitt's art stash, November 2013.Credit: AP

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