Posted Sunday, August 15, 1999

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London, Sunday, August 15, 1999

Hunt for Nazi looted art in British messes

By Andrew Gilligan, Defence Correspondent

OFFICERS' messes, air-force bases and garrisons across Britain are being scoured for looted Nazi art - carried off as trophies by Second World War troops - after Holocaust campaigners appealed to the Ministry of Defence to return it to its rightful owners. The Defence Secretary, George Robertson, ordered the hunt after a report from the Holocaust Educational Trust said that British and Allied troops indulged in "booty collection" of art taken by the Nazis, carrying off works originally seized from Jewish families and then held by prominent Nazis.

"The occupation forces were quite cavalier about what they did with looted art, some lining their walls with it," said a spokesman for the trust, which has been at the forefront of campaigns to return Nazi gold seized during the war. "We would like to find out whether there are some missing pieces still tucked away in the corner of an officers' mess or a general's office."

Even the most senior officers were not immune to the collecting impulse, the report says. The British Commander in Chief, Gen Sir Sholto Douglas, took works including a Rembrandt from the collection of the Nazi arms manufacturers Krupp, which he re-framed before removing in his private train. A senior air marshal is reputed to have asked the occupying authorities for pictures for his houses in Germany, because he "did not like" the ones he had.

Even King George VI had to be warned by the Foreign Office that he risked accusations of looting when he attempted to "rescue" parts of the Duke of Brunswick's art collection.

The British played an important role in preventing many treasures from being destroyed by the Nazis. Up to 6,500 Old Masters were collected by the Germans at a mine in Austria with the intention that they should be blown up in the event of defeat, but agents of the British Special Operations Executive helped to thwart the plan.

Some troops acted less commendably, however. "Allied soldiers took what they wanted in a number of cases," said Brendan Pittaway, the co-author of a new book on the subject, The Lost Masters. "Individual generals would go to the Monuments and Fine Arts Archive and say, 'I'm looking for something to brighten up my office, I think that painting would do the trick'. " Although ostensibly on temporary loan, some paintings were never recovered - one American general was found to have hoarded several priceless works in his garage.

Interest in the issue of looted Nazi artworks was sparked last year when the descendants of Paul Rosenberg, a Jewish art dealer, sued the Seattle Art Museum for the return of a valuable Matisse which they said had been stolen from him by the Nazis. The painting is alleged to have been sold on to the museum by a reputable firm of New York art dealers.

After the Seattle case, the chief British museums and galleries decided to go through their own collections to see if they included any suspect artworks among them. Sharon Page, company secretary of the Tate Gallery, said: "We have curators going through our works to check their provenance and see if there are any suspicious gaps in the Thirties and Forties, and we will publish a list of those whose history raises questions we are unable to resolve."

One Jewish family has already approached the Tate with a claim for one of its paintings, Griffier's View of Hampton Court Palace, valued at up to £200,000.

The investigations into the Armed Forces' vast holdings involve asking the commander of every air station and Army base in the country whether he or she has any potentially suspect works. Investigators may also visit the home bases of units which served in Germany at the end of the war, or their successors. "We are concerned to make sure that we are not holding any looted artworks," a ministry spokesman said. "We are looking at all the bases and garrisons, but there are no results announced yet of any discoveries."

The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
Our opinion
NO doubt some of the British generals referred to would point out that they had spent six years fighting to defeat the Nazis (and, incidentally, to end the Holocaust) while the victims of the Nazi looting were depositing their Gold in Swiss banks and taking refuge in Britain, Canada, and other countries. And that prior to taking flight those victims had not infrequently but quite legally sold off their art collections, -- at a Nazi-dictated pittance -- to the German gentlemen on the walls of whose homes they were later found. If they prosper with their claims for the restitution of these art works, will they refund to the Nazi purchasers or their heirs the money they received at the time?

The so-called "Holocaust Educational Trust" (HET) is registered with the U.K. Charities Commission in order to gain tax-exempt status. Their increasingly raucous political campaigns seem to indicate a more anti-British, political, commercial, and profit-oriented agenda than the word "charity" suggests. We have already posted documents showing the dark machinations of the HETs officers on other occasions.

Now here's a thought: D'you feel that the U.K. Charities Commission should be reminding the Holocaust Educational Trust of its responsibilities? Why not e-mail the Commissioners? First browse the commission's Webpage, then review the law, then send a brief complaint to the Commission using this pre-addressed form:

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