Stolen art should be returned

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Recently, I listened to two friends at the Senior Center discuss opera, which they both love. On Tuesday, Genie and I had an art class at the center, not that either of us will ever produce a masterpiece. On Sunday, I gave some photos to artist Sylvia Stanton at church.

I saw read the book I had read. I have been going back through the book, awed by the courage and tenacity of the men about whom it was written.

After each time I come into contact with art, I become upset that one of Hitler’s dreams is coming true, in a fashion.

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The late Cornelius Gurlitt, son of a man who was one of Hitler’s chief assistants in his effort to loot art from the rest of Europe, was found to have hoarded much of the art stolen by his father. His father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was charged with destroying or disposing of that which Hitler didn’t like but kept much of it instead. Hitler planned to put all the rest in a museum he was planning for his hometown, and in a way his dream is coming true. Some might think it ironic that art Hitler labeled as “degenerate” was preserved by the man he charged with disposing of it. By selling it to raise money for the Nazi war effort, it now may go on museum walls in Germany, thus making part of his dream of bringing stolen art to Germany and keeping it there come true nearly 70 years after his death.

The Germans can’t seem to determine if all of the more than $1 billion worth of art was stolen or amassed by “legitimate” means during the Nazi era.

As far as I’m concerned, for that nation, or any of its citizens, to retain any of that art is wrong, since many of the legitimate owners died in Hitler’s concentration camps.

This isn’t a fair world, especially where art stolen by the Nazis is concerned.

Much of that art discovered since the war remains in the hands of those who managed to come by it by hook or by crook, especially if it is on museum walls. That thing called “provenance,” or proving rightful ownership by the families of those from whom it was looted, is the sticking point. Records of that earlier ownership disappeared right along with the victims.

As years pass, even less of it is likely to be returned to the rightful owners.