Poland hopeful Turkmenistan will return art

AP 23 October 2008

WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Poland is working to secure the return of two 16th century altar pieces looted by the Nazis during World War II that later found their way to Turkmenistan, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

The works - «The Ascension >dating back to 1521, and «The Annunciation» from 1529 - were taken from churches in Szamotuly and Madre, respectively, in 1941, when Poland was under Nazi occupation.

They were taken to a Nazi-run museum in the western city of Poznan. After World War II, they were long considered destroyed or missing until a German journalist happened upon the central part of «The Ascension» in 1993 at the state art gallery in Ashgabat, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan.

Two wings of «The Annunciation» were later found at the same museum.

«We have no doubt the items are from Poland and from those two churches,» Wojciech Kowalski, the Foreign Ministry official responsible for the restitution of looted art, told The Associated Press. «They are very precious pieces of art and of great historic importance to us.

«It is very important for Poland, which suffered huge losses during the war, that we are able to restitute to churches the items that were specially created for them,» he said.

Kowalski said Warsaw and Ashgabat established diplomatic ties in 2006, opening up the possibility of Poland seeking the works' return.

«We are optimistic because the reaction of the Turkmenistan side is positive,» Kowalski said.

He added that Poland will send a medieval art expert to Ashgabat this year to confirm the authenticity and origin of the works to local authorities.

Historians believe that advancing Soviet troops obtained the altar pieces, along with other art works, in March 1945 when they took control of forts at Miedzyrzecze where the Nazis hid looted artifacts.

The Ashgabat gallery has said the altar pieces arrived there later in 1945, in exchange for antique pieces of art that were sent to Moscow's Alexander Pushkin museum.
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