Hunt for Nazi art shows museum failings: former minister

Tue Apr 8, 2014 2:51pm EDT
 
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By Monica Raymunt

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German pensioner's decision to let experts check his art trove for Nazi-looted treasures contrasts sharply with the approach of some museums that may hold works stolen from Holocaust victims, a former minister said on Tuesday.

Over 2,000 German museums hold works created before 1945 and acquired after the Nazis came to power in 1933, according to the Institute for Museum Research in Berlin. Some of them could have been looted or extorted from Jewish owners by the Nazis.

But only 285 museums, or less than five percent, have researched the ownership history of such works.

"It's not as if museums haven't been doing anything, but because of budget issues, they haven't done as much as they could have," Michael Naumann, a former German culture minister, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Elderly recluse Cornelius Gurlitt, whose hoard of some 1,400 art works was discovered in February 2012 in his Munich flat and confiscated by authorities in a tax probe, agreed on Monday to allow a task force of art experts to study the collection.

In exchange for his cooperation Gurlitt, whose art dealer father took orders from Adolf Hitler to buy and sell so-called 'degenerate art' to fund Nazi activities, will get back those works whose provenance is not in doubt.

Gurlitt also agreed to waive Germany's 30-year statute of limitations, under which he could be considered the legal owner of the paintings.

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The name plate on the house of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt is pictured in Salzburg November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler