A report from the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) shows that priceless art work looted by Nazi soldiers was returned to the high ranking Nazi soldiers that stole them, rather than the families that the paintings belonged to. The report also shows that state-run Bavarian facilities that were supposed to return artwork to it’s rightful owners have been holding the paintings since they were returned in 1949.
The report found that when artwork was returned by the Monuments Men, a group of American soldiers tasked with recovering and returning artwork stolen by Nazis during WWII, popularized by the 2012 film featuring George Clooney, it was often sold back to high-ranking Nazis by local officials. Individuals sold the pieces to the Nazi’s at highly discounted rates or, if the artwork was entrusted to an institution rather than an individual, it was put on display so the institution could profit from it and never returned.
High ranking Nazi families such as Goering, Hoffmann, Bormann, von Schirach, Frank, and Streicher were all known to negotiate directly with the director of the Bavarian State Museums and other ministers in the Bavarian government to acquire the paintings. These dealings indicate that corruption centered around profiting from the sales of these paintings was common and possibly even accepted, though frowned upon.
Another investigation, a probe from the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, shows that many institutions chose to simply hold onto the paintings and take no action. Following WWII the Allies opted for national-level restitution. This form of restitution had the allies turn the paintings over to local governments who were then responsible for identifying the paintings and returning them to their rightful owners.
The investigation was launched after family members of famed art collectors Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus implored the help of the CLAE in recovering some of the 160 paintings stolen from their ancestors. The family believed that two of the lost paintings were on display at a state-owned museum in Munich.
After reviewing extensive records is was discovered that the missing paintings were handed over to Bavaria by the Monuments Men in 1952, with the purpose of returning the painting to the family. To their dismay it was discovered that Bavarian State instead gave the painting to Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach, daughter of Hitler’s close friend, Heinrich Hoffmann almost a decade later in the early 1960’s.
The CLAE is continuing to work with the victims families in recover lost artwork.