Dutch commission identifies 139 likely Nazi-plundered artworks

Dutch commission identifies 139 likely Nazi-plundered artworks

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Famous Rijks National Museum, Netherlands is among the 162 museums participated in the 4 years long investigation by a special Dutch commission on stolen Holocaust period art (2) ‘Odalisque’ (meaning concubine) by renowned French Artist Henri Matisse in 1921, currently at the Stedelijk museum, is among the 139 arts at Dutch museums which have been identified as forcibly looted from the Jewish owners during Holocaust era. (3) On 12th April 1945, Allied Commander General Dwight David Eisenhower (later US president) along with General Omar Bradley and Lt General George Patton inspecting recovered arts earlier stolen and hidden in a German salt mine by the Nazis (4) ‘Image with Houses’ the 1909 painting by influential Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky is currently at Stedelijk Museum; is also among the list of 139.

The organized looting of art and other items by the Nazis occurred from 1933 till the end of the WWII is known as the Nazi plunder. The plundering was carried out mostly by the Kunstschutz military units, the term meant art officer. The Nazi Germans believed that the arts of Europe were part of a shared culture and Germany as the hegemonic power would seize and preserve these until the end of hostilities. This so called ‘saving of arts’ was considered as spoliation or looting by France, Russia, Belgium and Italy, which were the major victims of the Nazi plunder. Online edition of international news agency headquartered in New York City, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported that at least 139 arts currently in possession of dozens of Dutch museums were likely looted from the Jewish owners during the Holocaust era by the Nazi regime, revealed by the 4 years long investigation by the special Dutch commission ‘Committee for Museum Acquisitions from 1933 onwards’.

The list published on 26th October 2013, includes 61 invaluable arts that are in possession of 41 museums including world famous Stedelijk Museum and Rijks Museum which have 11 and 9 items with problematic origins respectively. 162 museums were among the 400 institutions where the study was conducted by the commission funded by the Ministry of Culture, Education and Science. The cost of the Dutch review was € 1.3 million or $ 1.75 million.

The research committee leader, Rudi Ekkart said that 61 arts were flagged due to the name of the owners and ‘most of the 61 items belonged to the Jews’. The ground breaking announcement raises the question of carrying out the study so late after almost 70 years. The possibility of finding more looted arts from countries which are yet to conduct such studies remains wide open.

Renowned French Artist Henri Matisse’s 1921 painting ‘Odalisque’, which hangs at Netherland’s top tourist attraction, Stedelijk museum, is among these 61 paintings. Some of the flagged items were the paintings of well known artists like Adriaen Hanneman and Isaac Israels.  The committee also found that the 1861 painting ‘Salome with head of John the Baptist’ by Jan Adam Kruseman may had been confiscated from Jewish owners and auctioned off in Amsterdam in 1943.

Siebe Weide of the Dutch Museum Associations said that the study did not offer recommendations on any possible reparation but it advised ‘claimants to contact the museums & follow procedures for restitution’. 13 Jewish ritual arts or Judaica items are also included in the list of problematic origins. A 19th century mezuzah or parchment inscribed with Hebrew Torah verses is one such item currently in possession of Elisabeth Weeshuis museum in Culembord, Gelderland. It was given to a museum for safeguarding it during WWII; Weeshuis given it to Louis de Beer, caretaker of Culemborg synagogue. de Beer died in the 1960s and the mezuzah was not returned.

This is the second such investigation of arts owned by Dutch museums after the first one conducted a decade ago to check arts obtained by museums from 1940-48. The current commission also followed a major study on stolen arts in Netherlands by a 1997 commission headed by Ekkart. London based lawyer Chris Marinello, who assists clients to retrieve looted arts, said that besides applauding the Dutch for the investigation he also had to say ‘where were you all this time?’

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE