German authorities in 2011 uncovered a stunning trove of 1,500 pieces of artwork
that had been looted by the Nazis, a German news magazine reported on
The masterpieces – valued over a billion euros – were discovered
among “mountains of rotten groceries and decades old cans” in a Munich
apartment, Focus magazine reported.
While the discovery of paintings by
artists such as Matisse, Renoir and Picasso is a victory for the art world, the
Commission for Looted Art in Europe sharply criticized the German government’s
decision to keep the discovery secret for over two years.
“It really is
not acceptable that two-and-a-half years after this art was found, it still has
not been published,” Anne Webber, the co-chair of the commission, told The
“We are calling on the German authorities to issue a
statement and provide a list immediately and also provide a timetable for its
return,” she said.
“Families have been looking for the artwork for 75
years. And it really is 75 years too many.”
The German customs agency did
not respond to requests for comment by press time.
During the 1930s and
1940s, the Nazi regime seized thousands of pieces of artwork it considered
“degenerate,” and Nazi officials either destroyed or resold the art. Hildebrand
Gurlitt, one Nazi art dealer, was tasked by Joseph Goebbels with selling some of
the art, according to British and German media reports.
Gurlitt told the
authorities that his collection of art was destroyed in the Allied firebombing
of Dresden, but the art was apparently passed down to his son, Cornelius
According to press reports, customs officers became suspicious
of the younger Gurlitt in 2010 when he was allegedly found carrying 9,000 euros
on a train from Switzerland.
The next year, authorities executed a search
warrant on Gurlitt’s apartment and found the artwork.
allegedly been selling art, piece-by-piece, when he needed money.
government’s decision to keep the discovery secret – the artwork has been kept
in a warehouse in Munich for examination – drew criticism from
“Time is running out for families,” Webber said.
spokesman for Yad Vashem said the museum did not have specific knowledge of the
case and is not directly involved in art restitution but said that restitution
should “be made as easy as possible.”
“Heirs should have the right to
receive back what the Nazis looted, as part of the effort to compensate the
Jewish people for the plunder of their property,” Yehudit Shendar, the deputy
director of the museums division at Yad Vashem, told the Post in an email.