The president of the World Jewish Congress on Wednesday criticized the Augsburg prosecutor for saying he wants to return seized works of art to the man who hoarded them for decades in his Munich apartment.
"The conduct of the Augsburg prosecutor has been less than exemplary," said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S Lauder.
After keeping the discovery of the paintings secret for two years, Lauder said it now appeared the prosecutor wanted to "rid himself of a problem that he has been unable to handle properly for a long time. That is irresponsible."
The art, including drawings, lithographs, prints and watercolors by artists of global renown, should be dealt with at the highest political level and not be left with a single prosecutor in Augsburg, Lauder added in a statement posted at the World Jewish Congress website.
The Augsburg public prosecutor's office is attempting to find out which of the paintings were stolen by the Nazis, and who their rightful owners are today. It is also considering whether to press charges against Cornelius Gurlitt.
The 80-year-old Gurlitt hoarded the more than 1,400 works of art for decades in a rundown Munich apartment. He said Sunday he wanted them returned. The art includes works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Franz Marc and Max Beckmann.
Lauder also said the discovery of the Munich art trove highlighted the fact that a great deal of Nazi-looted art remains to be discovered.
He called on the German government to create a commission authorized to examine all public collections for suspected looted art. The commission also should make available information that would enable Holocaust victims, their heirs and art historians to examine the art, Lauder said.