Germany to Speed Up Search for Owners of Looted Art
The German government said Monday it plans to speed up research into the rightful ownership of recently unearthed artworks looted by the Nazis, amid mounting calls for a full online list.
Federal and regional authorities involved in shedding light on the vast trove of artworks, including masterpieces by Picasso and Matisse, held talks on Friday, the government's spokesman said, according to the AFP news agency.
Representatives from the culture and finance ministries and the southern state of Bavaria agreed they "want to advance considerably faster the research into the origins of the artworks from this collection," spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.
"We want that works with an unclear history of acquisition... in consideration of the legal aspects of the ongoing investigation process, are immediately published," he said.
"We will announce further details on the procedure this week," noted Seibert.
The 1,400 artworks were found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a powerful Nazi-era art dealer. It is assumed that most of the art was stolen from Jewish collectors.
Since the discovery of the trove was made public, there have been growing calls on the German government to publish on the Internet an inventory of the artworks.
The head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, on Monday added his voice to calls for such an inventory.
He was quoted as having told the Die Welt daily that time was of the essence with possible heirs now elderly and that "injustice" would continue as long as clarity was lacking.
"The German government must show these pictures," he told the newspaper.
"Valuable time has been wasted. Neither the possible claimants nor possible witnesses in the return process are getting any younger," Lauder declared, adding, "Injustice will not be removed but continued so long as there is no clarity created about the owners."
He warned that if nothing happened "we will raise the pressure".
Despite international calls, German prosecutors have refused to publish a full inventory of the works, citing a need for more time to fully catalogue them and for discretion in their probe.
They have launched an investigation on charges of tax evasion and misappropriation of assets against Gurlitt. The works were discovered in February 2012 but the trove only came to light last week in a magazine report.
Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, had been tasked by the Nazis with selling works looted from Jewish collectors or seized as part of a crackdown on avant-garde, or what the Nazis termed "degenerate" art, in exchange for hard currency.
Reports on Sunday indicated that some of the found art will likely be returned to Gurlitt, since the works are deemed to have been "public property" at the time the Nazi regime seized them.
Seibert said the German government understood that the art haul had prompted many questions among Jewish organizations, who represent elderly victims wanting swift answers.
Between 1940 and 1944, German forces seized an estimated 100,000 paintings, artworks, tapestries and antiques from the homes of Jews in France, stripped of their rights by the racial laws enforced by the collaborationist government.
Thousands of stolen artworks have since been returned to their owners or their descendants, but many more have never resurfaced.