German Owner of $1.3B Looted Jewish Art Trove Hid in Plain Sight for Decades

Why Is Cornelius Gurlitt Free Man — Dad Was Top Nazi

getty images

By Reuters

Published November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Cornelius Gurlitt was not registered with Munich municipal authorities and had no tax number or pension - enough to start a probe. Prosecutors in Augsburg who specialise in white-collar crime got a warrant to search his home with customs police.

On Feb. 28 2012, they rang the bell marked Gurlitt. Cornelius was at home.

The officials immediately recognised the significance of what they had discovered. Contradicting early media reports of priceless oils stashed among tins of fruit, Siegfried Kloeble of the Munich customs police said it was all stored professionally.

“The framed works were stored in a vertical stack, the way you would see in an art museum depot,” he said. “The works on paper were stored flat in drawers, out of the light.”

Working so discreetly that Gurlitt’s neighbours did not notice anything, a specialist art haulage company hired by the Bavarian authorities, took three painstaking days to pack and remove the collection.

Haulage experts said the removers would have measured the moisture and temperature, protected the canvases with chemical tiles and put works inside air-cushioned parcels, then boxes. It was then all taken to a secure, and still secret, location.

In early 2012, the Munich authorities informed the federal government of their find and asked for expert assistance from Berlin. Meike Hoffmann, an academic specialising in modernist art targeted by the Nazis, got the job.

For 18 months she worked between the secret depot and her Berlin university office before news of the spectacular find came under the unwelcome glare of the media. By that time Gurlitt had vanished.

RESTITUTION

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that Gurlitt was hiding something.

A few months earlier, he had sold a pastel of a lion tamer by German Expressionist master Max Beckmann for 864,000 euros, via the Cologne-based auction house Lempertz. They describe it as a “totally normal” transaction but recognised at the time that there was a “restitution problem” - a euphemism in the trade for a likely claim from Jewish owners from the Nazi era.

“An old gentleman contacted our Munich office,” said Karl-Sax Feddersen, a lawyer for Lempertz. “We had a restitution problem which we actively addressed and we found a solution ahead of the auction.” This involved sharing a portion of the auction proceeds with the claimant.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.