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Victim of Nazi Art Trove Case: Germany's Handling 'Scandalous'

AFP interview reveals human side of Nazi art trove story, which continues to unravel as Germany refuses to return all the looted works.
By AFP and Arutz Sheva Staff
First Publish: 11/24/2013, 8:26 AM

Stolen artwork seized by Nazis
Stolen artwork seized by Nazis
Reuters

A granddaughter of German painter Otto Dix, a few of whose works were discovered in the vast trove of Nazi-looted art stashed in a Munich flat, has called Germany's approach to the Third Reich's spoils "scandalous," AFP reports. 

"Germany, generally speaking, has never really addressed the issue of works of art seized by the Nazis. It should have done that much earlier, soon after the war," Nana Dix told AFP in a telephone interview from her Munich home. "A discovery like this has never happened and now that it has, I find it scandalous."

Her grandfather was persecuted by the Nazis, who branded his moody, often grotesque depictions of the impact of war on German society as "degenerate."

The elder Dix's painting was heavily influenced by the horrors he witnessed in the trenches of World War I, an experience he described as "hideous" and a view that would put him at odds with the Nazis' glorification of the German military.

Nana Dix said the German authorities now had an obligation to publish all of the more than 1,400 paintings, sketches and prints by the likes of Matisse, Picasso and Chagall found stashed at the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of powerful art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt. 

Despite his Jewish roots, the Nazis chose Gurlitt for an exclusive group tasked with selling "degenerate" works confiscated from museums or masterpieces stolen or extorted from Jews in exchange for hard currency. 

Many of the artworks that were not sold were thought destroyed or lost after the war, and only resurfaced at the home of Cornelius Gurlitt during a customs police search of his flat in February 2012. German authorities kept quiet about the case, loath to touch off a deluge of claims, until a magazine this month broke the story.

Nana Dix said posting titles and pictures of all the works on a government provenance website, www.lostart.de, was essential in the name of transparency. "The families of the rightful owners would have a look, and that would facilitate research because the case is truly a mystery," she said.

Among the Dix artworks that have come to light are a previously unknown self-portrait, two watercolors and a drawing. "I was delighted when I heard about their discovery," she said. "I was of course pleased to know that they hadn't been destroyed or burned. At the same time, I had a strange feeling, knowing that for years, these works were hidden in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt who was living a lie. This man cannot have led a very happy life."

In another twist, Nana Dix lives less than a kilometer from Gurlitt's garbage-strewn apartment where the canvases were hoarded. "It's eerie to think that I often passed by with my children," she said.

Dix, who was seven when her grandfather died in July 1969, said she had fond memories of him. "We were allowed to come into his studio, to paint there and do crafts. He also played with us," she said. "Of course, he was a cranky and grumpy man, but with us, the children, he was always very nice."

She said she regrets not being older when he died. "I would have liked to talk about the Third Reich with him. He was a broken man," she said. "My parents were the ones who told me that he had been banned from painting and dismissed from Dresden Academy in 1933," when the Nazis came to power.

When the Nazis mounted an infamous 1937 exhibition of "degenerate art", mocking works they said violated the ideals of the Third Reich, paintings by Dix entitled "War Cripples" and "The Trench" had pride of place. The two works were later burned.

Just Thursday, the leader of Germany's Jewish community also slammed the decision by authorities to return hundreds of paintings to a recluse accused of hoarding priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis.

"After the whole thing was handled over 18 months nearly conspiratorially, the hasty reaction for a general return is certainly also the wrong one," stated Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.