Jewish leader warns Swiss museum not to take gift of Nazi-looted art
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Jewish leader warns Swiss museum not to take gift of Nazi-looted art

Ron Lauder warns accepting German collector’s bequest ‘would open a Pandora’s Box’

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Berlin, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (Photo credit: AP/Markus Schreiber)
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Berlin, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (Photo credit: AP/Markus Schreiber)

A top Jewish leader Saturday warned a Swiss museum against accepting a priceless set of art works including Nazi-looted paintings from the estate of reclusive German collector Cornelius Gurlitt.

Such a move “would open a Pandora’s Box and cause an avalanche of trials” by rival presumed heirs of the stolen art, Ronald Lauder, the head of the World Jewish Congress, told the German weekly Der Spiegel.

In the same interview, German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters said the government was in talks with Bern’s Museum of Fine Arts over the 1,280 paintings, drawings and sketches by Picasso, Monet, Chagall and other grand masters.

Before his death in May aged 81, Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer, struck an accord with the German government to help track down the rightful owners of the artworks, including Jews whose property was stolen or extorted under the Third Reich. But upon his death he named the Bern museum his sole heir.

A combination of photos released by prosecutors in Augsburg, Germany on November 12, 2013 show five of the 1,400 paintings believed looted by the Nazis, seized from a Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt.  (photo credit: Lostart.de/Augsburg prosecutors/AFP/File)
A combination of photos released by prosecutors in Augsburg, Germany on November 12, 2013 show five of the 1,400 paintings believed looted by the Nazis, seized from a Munich flat of Cornelius Gurlitt. (photo credit: Lostart.de/Augsburg prosecutors/AFP/File)

The works were seized in early 2012 when they were discovered by chance during a tax evasion probe, and Gurlitt willed them to the museum.

“I am sure we will reach a good and reasonable solution,” Gruetters said in the interview to be published on Monday.

Earlier this month the Bern Art Museum agreed to accept the bequest of hundreds of works, though it said that a final decision would be made during a board of trustees meeting at the end of November.

“The Board of Trustees and directors of Kunstmuseum Bern are surprised and delighted, but at the same time do not wish to conceal the fact that this magnificent bequest brings with it a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature,” the museum said in a statement in May when it learned it was named Gurlitt’s “unrestricted and unfettered sole heir.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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