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Friday, July 30, 2010

Final July 2010 Posting on Nazi-looted Art Trafficking

A document I recently saw for the first time really opened my eyes to the amount of trafficking in Nazi-looted art into U.S. museums.  It was a report completed by art historian Laurie A. Stein that was mentioned in the final report of the Bergier Commission, an Independent Commission of Experts established by the Swiss Parliament to study the role of Switzerland in trafficking during World War II.  The Bergier Report came out in March 2002.  To my knowledge, Ms. Stein's report has never been published, but last year was given by the Swiss government to Raymond J. Dowd, a claimants' lawyer in the Bakalar and Grosz litigation, which he discusses often on his blog.  Because of how sensitive this is, I will use quite restrained language. 

Ms. Stein's report indicates that research to date has only scratched the surface of the "extraordinary breadth of traffic in art to the United States that was occurring in the Nazi era."  Ms. Stein stated that "the myths of American museum directors and collectors purchasing art in the 1930's through Swiss sources, in order to rescue it from the National Socialists, need to be reconsidered."  She added:  "It must be remembered that while Europe went to war, America was still conducting business as usual, even in the cultural arena--defining new museum collecting policies, mounting exhibitions, and building private collections from the best possible art available on the market." 

The report focuses mostly on art channeled into U.S. museums via Nazi sales of "degenerate art" taken from German museums to auction in Switzerland (as advertised in Art News in New York) to raise foreign currency.  Some art world insiders could not resist the temptation to scoop up a masterpiece for a bargain despite knowing that the net effect would be to "transform works of art into armaments."  Many of those masterpieces eventually would come to be sold or donated to U.S. museums.  There are some big names implicated by the report as having handled or ultimately received this art - the Museum of Modern Art, the Fogg Art Museum, Curt Valentin, "this country's most influential figure in the development of modern art", and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., to name just a very few names recognizable to a wide cross section of Prawfs readers. 

The report supports the hypothesis that the high-profile dealers and collectors who facilitated the transactions likely are many of the same individuals who trafficked in Switzerland in art taken from Jews in forced and duress sales.  To highlight the breadth of the issue, Ms. Stein wrote:  "The range and constancy of recently-arrived works being offered and acquired by Americans evidences that the United States became a welcoming homeland for confiscated and looted art, and Switzerland became probably the most important conduit country for the rush of American art collecting during the era."  According to the report, "[i]t is clear that there was much more dealing between American-based buyers . . . either in front of the auction block or behind the scenes, than has been recognized up until now."

So, in conclusion, the Nazi-looted art problem will not disappear any time soon.  As heirs become aware of their possible claims and start to research, we can expect more litigation.  One can only hope that the Nazi-looted art commission about to be born within the Department of State has an extraordinary impact within the United States and beyond in terms of truth and justice.  There is still a long road ahead, but we owe it to Truth and Memory to continue. 

Posted by Jen Kreder on July 30, 2010 at 12:15 PM in Property | Permalink

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