After WJC intervention, Berlin pledges to speed up Munich art trove investigation

The German government has pledged to accelerate the research into the provenance of the ‘Nazi treasure’ found in Munich. Following a call by the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, in the newspaper ‘Die Welt’, Federal Government Spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin on Monday: “We would like to advance much faster than before regarding the establishment of the origin of these art works. The government understands that the leaders of Jewish organizations are asking many questions right now because they often concern very old people who were victims of injustice.” Lauder wrote in ‘Die Welt’ on Monday that a quick publication of the entire find was needed.

"We want that works with an unclear history of acquisition... in consideration of the legal aspects of the ongoing investigation process, are immediately published," Seibert said. "We will announce further details on the procedure this week."

Lauder said in ‘Die Welt’ that time was now of the essence with possible heirs now elderly and that "injustice" would continue as long as clarity was lacking. "The German government must show these pictures," the WJC president was quoted as saying. "Valuable time has been wasted. Neither the possible claimants nor possible witnesses in the return process are getting any younger. Injustice will not be removed but continued so long as there is no clarity created about the owners." And Lauder warned that if nothing happened "we will raise the pressure".

Despite international calls, German prosecutors have refused to publish a full inventory of the works, citing a need for more time to fully catalog them and for discretion in their probe. They have launched an investigation on charges of tax evasion and misappropriation of assets against Cornelius Gurlitt, in whose Munich apartment the more than 1,400 works including paintings by Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse were found in February 2012. The case only came to light last week in a magazine report.

Gurlitt is the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a powerful Nazi-era art dealer and collector who acquired the paintings in the 1930s and 1940s. Hildebrand Gurlitt had been tasked by the Nazis with selling works looted from Jewish collectors or seized as part of a crackdown on avant-garde, or what the Nazis termed "degenerate" art, in exchange for hard currency.

Read the opinion article by the WJC president here.

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