US officials to return art stolen by Nazis to Poland

Plan to return of Johann Conrad Seekatz painting announced just days before George Clooney film about Nazi-plundered art hunters set to hit US theaters.

'Repudiation of Hagar' by Johann Conrad Seekatz. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
'Repudiation of Hagar' by Johann Conrad Seekatz.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Days ahead of the US release of a George Clooney film about Nazi-plundered art hunters, US officials announced plans on Thursday to repatriate to Poland a Johann Conrad Seekatz painting stolen by the Nazis.

Officials declined to say more about the painting by the 18th century German artist, known for his military and landscape paintings, but said they hoped the film will bring more attention to art plundered during World War II.

"When the movie comes out, there's going to be more people looking at (artwork) in their homes that a family relative may have passed down through generations, that may not actually belong to them," said Nicole Navas, spokeswoman for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Officials with ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division and Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara's office will present the painting to Poland's US ambassador and consul general at a ceremony in Manhattan on Thursday.

The film, starring American actors George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman and French actor Jean Dujardin, recounts the true story of a US military platoon of art historians who recovered art stolen by the Nazis and returned it to the original owners.

The movie debuts Thursday at the Berlin International Film Festival, and on Friday opens in US theaters nationwide.

The original seven so-called "Monument Men" returned millions of pieces of art stolen during World War II. This week the Dallas, Texas-based Monument Men Foundation - which continues the group's work - issued a "most wanted list" of stolen artwork which has yet to be recovered.

Navas said Homeland Security Investigations has been actively involved with the Monument Men Foundation effort for more than a year.

"We are collaborating with them and want to continue to work with them," she said.

Bharara's office has also been active in repatriating high-profile stolen artwork to foreign governments and individuals.

Last year, Bharara's prosecutors returned a nearly complete skeleton of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar dinosaur to Mongolia, following the 2012 prosecution of a Florida paleontologist for smuggling the bones out of Mongolia's Gobi desert in multiple shipments.