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Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the US

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Press Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Stu Loeser
(202) 371-6400, ext. 456

September 21, 1999 from Reverside Press Enterprise

Nazi art loot 50 years later

In a last ditch effort to stop the spreading conflict, American envoy Sumner Welles drove to Hermann Goering's Nuremberg estate in 1940. Hitler's henchman wasn't interested in peace but enthusiastically showed off his art collection an ostentatious display of hundreds of paintings.

Mr. Welles was sure he'd seen some of these masterpieces before.

Even by the early days of WWII, Marshall Goering and his Nazi art thieves had confiscated a vast collection of paintings owned by Jewish families.  In just a few years, the Nazis amassed 8,000 paintings, while selling off unworthy pictures by such degenerate artists as Picasso and Matisse.  For the fulsomeness of that number, consider it took Washington's National Gallery a half century to reach 5,000 paintings.

Today, nations still struggle with the fuehrer's legacy to the art world.  Jewish families, indeed nations themselves, continue to file claims for return of art now held in museums all over the world. Germany recently returned a Vincent van Gogh taken from a Jewish businessman.  The prestigious Louvre agreed to return a 17th century masterpiece by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo confiscated in 1941 for Goering's  garish display.  The Seattle Art Museum agreed to return a Matisse to heirs of a French Jewish collector but still sues the dealer who sold it to them in 1954.

A year ago, Congress set up the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets to try to establish ownership of valuables.   Researchers directed by Claremont McKenna College history professor Jonathan Petropoulos, an expert on the Nazi art world, has sifted records to establish provenance of works of art.  Seventh-five federal entities including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Office of the President and the Department of State have been identified as having possibly possessed or controlled property belonging to Holocaust victims during or after WWII.

The commission has sought an additional $1.5million from Congress to finish its work and it is warranted.

But if America is finally owning up to the art ruins left by the Nazis, Russia is displaying old tendencies.  Russia has more art loot than anyone, including most of Hungary's treasures valued at $3billion.  It has refused to look for contraband in its collections and passed a law saying it isn't obligated to return it anyway.

The Nazis didn't invent art looting; they just perfected it.  The nefarious skill has left the rest of the world still writhing today in a painful fight over items that have little in common with war but have always been a part of its booty.  Given history, it could have taken another 50 years to sort out the mess left behind by Mr. Goering and his pals.

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