AP 19 November 2008
FRANKFURT AN DER ODER, Germany – Six medieval stained-glass windowpanes looted by the Red Army during World War II were returned to a German church Monday, where officials said they hoped to negotiate the return of other plundered artworks.
The windows complete a 117-panel set that depicts the Bible in pictures. The 14th century panels will be restored and reinstalled at the Marienkirche, a church near Germany's border with Poland.
Russian lawmakers voted earlier this year to return the looted art — a decision Germany hopes could lead to negotiations for other works plundered during the conflict.
"Small steps are better than no steps," German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said during a ceremony celebrating the artwork's return.
The panels were removed from the Marienkirche during the war to protect the priceless windows from the wartime bombing. They were put into storage in the basement of a palace in Potsdam. Soviet soldiers seized them in the final days of the war and sent the windows home to Russia.
The first 111 panels, held for decades at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, were returned in 2002 for the 750th anniversary of the church, which is older than the windows.
But the six panels returned Monday, including colorful depictions of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and the ark, were not among them. In 2002, a Russian art historian found them in storage at a cloister outside Moscow under the jurisdiction of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
The panels are part of 65-foot-high (20-meter-high) windows set behind the church's altar. Opaque white glass panels of the same design now serve as place holders for the six panes until they can be restored and replaced.
"A homecoming is always a special experience," said Vladimir Kotenev, Russia's ambassador to Germany. "All the more so when that homecoming follows a long absence."
Russia and Germany have long sparred over priceless objects taken from Germany in the waning days of World War II.
Germany and other countries have pressed for their return, which they argue were taken illegally. But Russia has declared the art was seized as retribution for the 27 million Soviet lives lost and destruction of entire cities during the conflict.
In recent years, Germany has returned some of the Russian cultural treasures looted by Nazi troops and paid for the restoration of others, including the famed Amber Room — named for its ornate amber inlay — at the 18th-century Catherine Palace in Tsarksoye Selo outside St. Petersburg.
Sandra Meinung, a stained glass restorer who worked on the first batch of Marienkirche windows, said it will take her more than a year to refurbish plates cracked and darkened by decades of storage in inhospitable conditions.
Helga Freye, 75, who remembers viewing the complete panes as a young girl, said she once visited the Pushkin museum in Moscow but never guessed the missing panels were hiding amid its holdings.
"It's wonderful to have them back," she said.http://www.directionstoorthodoxy.org/n/russia_returns_stained_glass_to_german_church.html