Could Nazi-tainted art be currently hanging in the halls of the German Bundestag?
The German-language daily Bild reported Monday the parliament building’s 4,000-piece art collection may contain Nazi-looted art, some with ties to infamous Nazi art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt whose collection was publicized in November in a scandal still rocking the country.
In question at the parliament, writes Bild, are some 108 works of “unknown provenance.” Specifically, two are currently being investigated by an art historian who began researching the collection in 2012.
Georg Waltenberger’s 1905 “Chancellor Buelow speaking in the Reichstag” and a Lovis Corinth chalk lithography “Street in Koenigsberg” are singled out by Bild, which claims the Corinth work has ties to Gurlitt.
Gurlitt was one of four Nazi-authorized art agents to deal in the tens of thousands of artworks labeled “degenerate” by the Nazis that were collected in Germany and sold abroad. Gurlitt purchased art for Hermann Goering’s personal collection and Hitler’s planned Linz Fuehrermuseum.
Gurlitt dealt primarily in France, where he also accrued a massive personal collection, some of which was hidden until two years ago when police in a tax investigation case searched the Munich apartment of his son, Cornelius Gurlitt.
The Munich trove contains some 1,406 works of various origins, which are being researched by a taskforce of art historians, including representatives from Israel and the Jewish Claims Conference.
After the war, complex art restitution efforts were attempted in Germany, beginning with those of the Allies’ Monuments Men. Some 2,300 works without located heirs are still currently in custodial care of the German government, with many loaned to museums, institutions or government buildings which have been tasked to continue provenance research. Claims are periodically made on these works, with varied results in a Germany lacking legislation on art restitution.
Whether the Gurlitt tie is proven or a ploy for publicity, the question of the provenance of the parliament’s art collection is very real, and, says a Bundestag spokesperson, being addressed.
In response to the Bild article, the spokesperson wrote a multi-paragraph refutation, saying the piece contains false allegations. Namely, there is “no evidence” of a link to Gurlitt, and the government is not trying to whitewash these cases and has commissioned a lengthy investigation into the provenance of the parliament’s collection, which should be concluded and published in March or April 2014.
This is, however, not the first time Germany is being accused of not publishing relevant information. The Gurlitt case was broken to the public through a German Focus magazine expose only some 18 months after the trove’s find.
And historically, Germany has not systematically made available the “asset declarations” Jews in the Third Reich completed in 1938-9 listing their personal and professional possessions, said Bobby Brown, head of the Israel government’s initiative in Holocaust restitution/reparations, Project HEART.
Unlike Germany, Austria has systematically digitized all known declaration forms, which are stored in the country’s national archives and available via photostat upon request, said Brown in an interview with The Times of Israel last week.
In Germany one must be a veritable private detective to find the forms, which are not systematically stored or computerized. Often the forms are in town repositories or church attics among thousands of other historical documents, if they haven’t already been destroyed.
Post-war, said Brown, the German government should have collected them and made them available. “Germany did not have clean hands by not giving over information,” said Brown from Jerusalem.
“It’s not only about property,” said Brown, though he emphasized victims and heirs have the right to receive all relevant information so they may receive their rights and know their family’s heritage. “The asset declarations are basically a snapshot of the family’s history… So much more needs to be done.”