Israel Following First Test of Nazi Art Panel This Week

Germany pledged transparency in restitution of Nazi-looted art.

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Israel is taking a keen interest in a meeting due to take place in Berlin on Wednesday, in which a new panel on disputed Nazi art will hear a claim from three Jewish families.

The families claim that their ancestors, who were art collectors during the 1930s, were compelled by Nazi leader Hermann Goering to sell the nation's largest collection of medieval Christian artifacts, known as the Guelph collection.

The Guelph case is the first to go before the panel after the disclosure in November that Bavarian state officials broke international norms on art restitution by hiding the discovery of 1,400 artworks found in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, an elderly Munich man whose father was an art dealer for Hitler.

The Gurlitt case sparked an international uproar and led to Germany's pledge to overhaul the eight-person state panel, the Limbach Commission, which art experts have criticized for being bureaucratic and opaque.

Israel is observing the panel closely to ensure that Germany keeps to its pledge to be more transparent and efficient in restituting art taken from Jews during the Nazi era.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat wrote a letter to her German counterpart, Bernd Neumann last month, urging Germany to follow both "moral and historical obligations" in evaluating the Guelph case, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"I suggest we continue our constructive dialogue regarding this key subject," Livnat wrote.

The State of Prussia purchased the 42 works in the Guelph treasure, also known as the "Welfenschatz," in 1935 from three Jewish art dealers, said Mel Urbach, an attorney arguing the claim for the descendants of the dealers.

The collection comprises Christian artifacts, including the arm of St. Laurence encrusted in gold and silver, and various other religious icons made of silver, gold, pearls and jewels. The market price is unclear but experts consider it to be one of the finest collections of medieval artifacts in the world. 

Erich Heckel, Landscape 1916, Gouache on canvas.Credit: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem