Frisco man tracking possible link between Hitler and art work

WFAA 31 March 2010

By David Schechter

Stolen, destroyed and lost forever - during World War II, Nazis looted artistic treasures across Europe. Now, a Frisco man thinks he may own one of those stolen works.

In a remarkable twist of history, the number "237" glued to the back of a painting he owns, may help Bill Pentak Sr. connect it to the greatest art heist of all time: Adolf Hitler’s systematic plundering of millions of pieces, many of them priceless statues and paintings.

"Unbelievable. They took everything,” said Pentak. “Even if it was nailed down they ripped it up,” he added.

In a previous report, News 8 helped Pentak authenticate his painting. Several experts now agree it is “Ceres,”  painted by a German master named Johann Karl Loth, who worked in Italy 300 years ago.

But that may not be where the story ends.

"It would be amazing to be able to find the family that this belonged to at one time. Or their heirs,” said Pentak.

But why does Pentak believe it was stolen by the Nazis?

Well, he bought it from a German man who owned a gallery in Austin. Pentak vividly remembers another German man coming into the shop and neither man realized Pentak was still there. "They would click their heels together and both give the German Nazi salute to one each other,” said Pentak.

The painting may conservatively be worth $60,000. But if it is stolen, Pentak wants nothing more than to give it back. And that's why he drove it down the Dallas North Tollway so he could show it to Robert Edsel.

"You have all the ingredients necessary here for someone to be extremely alarmed,” said Edsel, whose Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation, helps return art stolen during the war. And the first thing Edsel does is -- not to look at the front -- but the back.

"That's where the good information is,” said Edsel, as he squatted down in front of the painting.

"Okay, well that's somebody's inventory number, 237,” he said.

A previous owner probably used a numbering system to maintain their collection.

So, in addition to the painting itself that number is a hard fact that will help in the search, during the coming months. Edsel is hopeful. "It's a sexy subject, it's the kind of thing the Nazi leadership loved collecting -- nudes,” he said. "These are the kinds of things that were very popular,” Edsel said.

In the end, Pentak may find he's the legitimate owner of a master work but, you get the feeling, he may gain something even greater by giving it away.

"At least I've done something on this earth while I'm here to make some right against some wrongs. And that's so small, but I've never done anything like that,” he said.

And it all may come down to those three numbers on the back: 2-3-7.

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