Much of Hitler's private art collection is scattered in the Czech Republic
Adolf Hitler's youthful ambition of becoming an artist is well documented, as is the Third Reich's penchant for looting European art. Less known was that a large part of Hitler's personal collection was hidden inside a monastery in Vyšší Brod, a south Bohemian town near the Austrian border, during World War II. Virtually unknown until recently - thanks to the resurfacing of a postwar letter - is that much of that collection remains in the Czech Republic.
"Some words were blacked out, and we could read them only by means of a special procedure," says Jiří Kuchař, author of a new Czech-language book Hitler's Collection in the Czech Republic (Hitlerova sbírka v Čechách), about the July 1945 letter.
The letter, written by a Cistercian monk, noted that Hitler's treasures hidden at the monastery were not moved to Munich for redistribution as was much plundered art. Hitler's pieces were kept in Vyšší Brod as a sort of balance for the art that was carried out of the monastery during war. Kuchař and his colleagues have been hunting Hitler's art for the past four years.
After a tip from genealogist Lubomír Mazuch, Kuchař and his colleague Stanislav Motl traveled the country is search of the lost art.
The pair would show a picture of the artwork they were looking for, and then mention that the piece may have been part of Hitler's collection.
"When someone got pale, it usually means they got scared. When they got red, I knew they were hiding something," Kuchař said.
Most had no idea the work they displayed was once owned by Hitler, Kuchař says.
In the park outside Hluboká nad Vltavou Castle, Kuchař found three of the biggest pieces of Hitler's collection: The Seedsman sculpture by Willi Knapp, The Rower by Hermann Zettlitzer and The Aphrodite by Wilhelm Wandschneider.
After the release of Kuchař's book June 18, the castle art gallery moved the three sculptures inside. Vlastimil Tetiva, curator of the modern art department at Alšova Jihočeská gallery, said it was for security reasons.
"It would be only a question of time, before someone came to try to steal them."
Tetiva also said that the works will no longer be displayed, as they don't fit the spirit of the gallery, and that is why they have been displayed outdoors to this point.
Extensive research by Kuchař and his colleagues included hours scouring German art catalogs, historic photographs and sales receipts to track what belonged to Hitler and what came from Vyšší Brod.
Two other sculptures once housed at the monastery turned up in auction-house catalogs in London and Frankfurt am Main.
"Right before the end, Hitler packed his personal archive into 10 or 12 boxes, and this collection was loaded on a plane. This plane was either shot down or simply crashed on [the Austrian] border with Czechoslovakia. It is hidden there still," Mazuch said, flashing a mischievous smile.
Radka Zítková can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org://www.praguepost.com/tempo/1656-nazi-art-could-be-around-the-corner.html