New Report Reveals Munich Museums Sold Artworks Looted by Nazis

Artforum 28 June 2016

A total of 3,500 Nazi-looted artworks were sold by museums in Munich after World War II instead of being returned to their rightful owners, report Catrin Lorch and Jörg Häntzschel of the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

These artworks, found by the Monuments Men, a group of art experts appointed to locate and protect works stolen by the Nazis, were handed off to Bavaria’s State Paintings Collections so that they could be given back to their original owners. Instead, the organization sold and gave away the works to various parties, including relatives of higher-ups within the Nazi regime, according to a report by the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE), headquartered in London.

CLAE uncovered this while investigating the provenance of a piece by Jan van der Heyden that is currently in the collection of the Xanten Cathedral, in North Rhine-Westphalia. It once belonged to a Jewish family by name of Kraus, who were forced to leave Vienna in 1938.

The Van der Heyden was bought by Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s personal photographer (Hoffmann’s daughter, Henriette, married Baldur von Schirach, the Third Reich’s youth leader). Hoffmann’s art collection, along with the art collections of other top-ranking Nazis, were taken into the custody of the Monuments Men after the war. However, after WWII, Henriette von Schirach bought back the Van der Heyden in addition to numerous other artworks and valuable objects, as did other members of Hoffman’s family.

Anne Webber of CLAE said, “It is particularly striking that the Hoffmann family was getting virtually everything back that it claimed with minimal proof of ownership and this went on for almost two decades. The burden of proof was much higher for claims from Jewish families—from the victims of these Nazi leaders.”

Shortly after buying the Van der Heyden, Von Schirach sold it to the Xanten Cathedral. The Xanten Cathedral Association, however, refutes the Kraus family’s claim to the work. The Bavarian State Paintings Collections has gone on record claiming it did not hinder the restitution of these stolen artworks. It says it is willing to locate “fair and just solutions” with the relatives of those who were robbed.
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