Heirs race to find Nazi-looted art

Tue Jun 23, 2009 8:30am EDT
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By Sarah Marsh

VIENNA (Reuters) - Eighty-one-year old Thomas Selldorff, who fled Austria with his family before it was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938, hopes an upcoming international conference will bolster efforts to return Nazi-looted art.

The Nazi's seized over 200 artworks owned by his grandfather, an avid art collector, as part of a policy of seizing Jewish property. So far, Selldorff has been able to retrieve only two of the lost paintings.

"I want to be able to pass these things on to my family ... I want them to have the link and an appreciation for some of the things my grandfather was involved with," said Selldorff, who lives in the United States and wants to exhibit the altar pieces by Austrian baroque artist Kremser Schmidt in a museum.

Some 65 years after World War Two, experts say thousands of artworks confiscated by the Nazis, including masterpieces by art nouveau master Gustav Klimt and expressionist Egon Schiele, still need to be restituted to their rightful owners.

Government officials from around 49 countries, dozens of non-governmental groups and Jewish representatives will meet in Prague this week to review current practices. They are likely to sign a new agreement to step up restitution efforts.

Some participants hope the conference will lead to the creation of a central body responsible for publishing updates on countries' progress, which could prompt them to do more.

The task of restituting Nazi-looted works is an epic one. The Nazis formed a bureaucracy devoted to looting and they plundered a total of 650,000 art and religious objects from Jews and other victims, the Jewish Claims Conference estimates.

Artworks were auctioned off, handed over to national museums or top Nazi officials, or stashed away for a Fuehrer museum Adolf Hitler was planning to build in the Austrian town of Linz, where he spent a part of his youth.   Continued...

<p>The painting "St. Maurice and His Companions of the Theban Legion" by an unknown South German artist is seen during the press preview of an exhibition of rarely-seen Old Master paintings entitled &amp;quotReclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker" at the Jewish Museum in New York, in this March 10, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files</p>