Germany Plans to Publish List of Nazi-Looted Works in Art Trove

Wall Street Journal 14 November 2013
By Mary M Lane

BERLIN—A German government task force looking into the discovery of a cache of lost art discovered in Munich said it would release a list of 590 works it believes may have been looted by the Nazis.

The disclosure, a central demand of the U.S. and Holocaust victims groups, will begin next week, the task force said in a statement.

The decision follows the publication on Monday of the details of 25 works from the collection of a former Nazi art dealer, a step that was criticized by art experts and Jewish families seeking restitution as inadequate. A total of 1,400 works were discovered.

After initially resisting pressure for more transparency, German officials acknowledged on Thursday that publication of the full details of the works in question was necessary to accelerate the process of determining their provenance.

"Without transparent documentation, a complete clarification as to the origins of these works of art can hardly be achieved," the task force said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of State has for days been asking Berlin to urge local Bavarian officials to provide detailed information about the art.

Under the so-called Washington Principles, Germany agreed in 1998 to help return art stolen by the Nazis. But the Munich case has been complicated by the fact that the work was held by an individual, not a museum.

"This is a good first step, but the Washington Principles make no distinction between art taken during the war and held by individuals and art taken and held by museums," Stuart Eizenstat, Secretary of State John Kerry's Special Advisor on Holocaust Issues, told the Journal in an interview.

Mr. Eizenstat negotiated the creation of those principles on behalf of the U.S.

Washington will continue to insist that Germany establish a clearer method for restitution of works from the Munich collection to Jews, non-Jews and any museums who might have claims on the work, he said.

The artwork was found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the elderly son of an art dealer for the Nazis who died in 1956. Though German authorities made the discovery in 2012, the find only came to light last week after a German magazine broke the story.

The works were confiscated by Bavarian tax authorities in early 2012.

Prosecutors in Augsburg, Germany, had until now declined to make a list of the works public amid fears it would unleash a wave of fraudulent claims from fortune seekers. Citing the continuing investigation into suspected tax evasion and embezzlement, state prosecutors in the small town kept the trove secret for nearly two years, despite indications that some of the works were confiscated by the Nazis.

On Monday, the government announced the creation of a six-person committee to research the provenance of all 1,400 works. Previously, only one art expert was assigned to the case.

On Thursday, the German government announced that the committee would be comprised of German and international experts but didn't say whom they had chosen or when that would be announced.

It is unclear whether members of any Jewish restitution groups will be included.
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