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Posted Friday, June 25, 1999

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Wednesday, June 23, 1999


By SUSANNAH PATTON Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) -- A French court on Wednesday ruled in favor of an American writer who suggested that a prominent French-Jewish art dealer collaborated with the Nazis.

A panel of three judges said in a written decision that Hector Feliciano, accused of slandering the late Georges Wildenstein in his 1997 book "The Lost Museum," had documents showing the art dealer "had direct and indirect relations with German authorities during the Occupation."

Feliciano's book suggests that Wildenstein, who ran the family business from 1910 until his death in 1963, maintained commercial ties with the Nazis during the Occupation.

Wildenstein fled France in January 1941, and settled in New York.

His son Daniel, grandsons Alec and Guy, and their New York gallery, sued Feliciano, an art historian, for $1 million in damages, claiming the book tarnished the family name and scared away major clients.

But the French judges said that while it wasn't their job to determine the truthfulness of Feliciano's book, his work was "objective and fair."

The judges also ordered the Wildensteins to pay $1,900 to Feliciano, who had countersued.

ACTION REPORT COMMENTS: ANY astute reader of David Irving's biiography of Hermann Göring (William Morrow, New York, 1989), would have found massive evidence of the dealing that went on between the Nazis and the Paris art dealing community. There was money in it for all of them. In the National Archives repository at Suitland, Maryland, are the original inventories of all the items purchased by Göring from those dealers (many of whom obtained restitution of the paintings after the war -- and kept the money they had taken for selling them!)

Nazis and art dealers: six of one, half a dozen of the other.


Feliciano said the case, which spotlighted complex transactions between Parisian art dealers and the Nazis, has begun to lift the veil of secrecy on France's thriving wartime art market.

"The courts are now doing what the administration wouldn't do," Feliciano said in a telephone interview. "They are allowing people to gain access to archives and find out the truth about this period in history."

The Wildensteins can appeal the decision. Neither family members nor their lawyer were available for comment Wednesday.

The book, translated into eight languages, mentions Wildenstein only in passing. It focuses primarily on the Nazis' organized pillaging of thousands of paintings belonging to wealthy French Jews.

Wartime Paris was an art dealer's dream. The Nazis flooded the market with works by artists they considered morally corrupt -- Picasso, Matisse, Chagall among them -- trading them or buying classical art for a museum to glorify Nazi ideals.

Under the measures passed by France's pro-Nazi Vichy regime banning Jews from owning businesses, Wildenstein's gallery was transferred to Roger Dequoy, a non-Jewish employee who appears to have done business with the Nazis.

Court documents show Wildenstein remained in contact with Dequoy, who conducted business with Karl Haberstock, a Berlin-based dealer and fervent Nazi who had close contact with Wildenstein up to 1939.

Haberstock was Hitler's private dealer and later developed the theory of degenerate or morally corrupt art.

The Wildensteins contend that Dequoy, who worked at the gallery for nine years after the war, was acting on his own.

Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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