David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, then, questions for Attorney General nominee Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
Germany recently published details about more than 100 artworks, including pieces by Picasso and Cézanne, discovered in Munich as part of a huge stash of suspected Nazi loot. Diane and her guests discuss why so little has been done to return stolen goods to Holocaust victims and their families and what this incident means for institutions and collectors in the U.S.
- Melissa Eddy Munich correspondent, The New York Times
- Thomas Kline attorney, Andrews Kurth LLP. He specializes in the recovery of stolen art.
- Dorothy Kosinski director, The Phillips Collection.
- Lynn Nicholas author, "The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Germany recently published details about more than 100 artworks, including pieces by Picasso and Cezanne, discovered in Munich as part of a huge stash of suspected Nazi loot. Joining me to talk about the difficulties Holocaust victims and their families still face in recovering stolen goods, Lynn Nicholas, author of "The Rape of Europa," Thomas Kline, an attorney specializing in art and cultural property litigation, and Dorothy Kosinski, director of The Phillips Collection, an art museum here in Washington. But first joining us by phone from Berlin is Melissa Eddy. She's Berlin correspondent with The New York Times. And welcome to you, Melissa Eddy.
MS. MELISSA EDDYThank you, Diane. I'm pleased to be here.
REHMSo glad to have you. Tell us about the latest developments in this art stash found in a Munich apartment. Is there anything? What do we know about the artwork?
EDDYWell, what we know is that authorities back in February of 2012 found this work as part of a tax evasion investigation, suspected tax evasion. And when they went into the apartment, they found these hundreds of works stashed there, and confiscated them. Then they kept this silent until last month when a German magazine focus came forward with a story. And under immense public pressure, the prosecutors in Bavaria who had been basically sitting on these works were forced to come forward with them to the public.
EDDYAnd then under even more pressure from outside forces, certainly from the United States, from Israel as well, from Jewish groups, but also other friends and allies of the country, really forced them to somehow address the issue that a lot of these works are believed to have been confiscated from Jews or bought from Jews at rock bottom prices before World War II, even in the 1930s. And they have somehow been kept off the radar. They were kept as a deep secret for decades. And so the Germans responded finally by announcing that they would form a taskforce that is to deal with the issue of helping to restitute the pieces that a family comes forward and says, this was our family's work of art.
REHMAnd how is that going to be done? It sounds like creating the taskforce is going to take even longer perhaps than originally thought.
EDDYWell, it's a good question. We have actually not heard a whole lot about the taskforce in recent weeks. I think there's real hope that by the end of this year it will be named. You have to keep in mind that Germany has been without a government since late September. And its election, it looks like we will finally get -- Chancellor Merkel will pull her new cabinet together...
EDDY...next week and that should help. And hopefully once that is done, then the ministries -- the justice ministry will be involved, the finance ministry, which is the German ministry that is responsible for restitution issues, will also be involved. And so they really -- she needed I think -- politically those ministers had to be in office to be able to formally appoint their people to sit on the taskforce.
REHMAll right. I've heard conflicting -- I've heard and read conflicting reports about the content. Some people say or some reports have them as merely lithographs. Others say they are watercolors, drawings by Degas, Cezanne, Picasso. So what do we know about the contents of that apartment?
EDDYWhat we know for sure, what anyone can go onto the website of the German government's restitution authority, which is at www.lostart, written together, .de. We can right now see 554 works from this collection, which is the -- I'm sorry, 354.
REHM300, right, right.
EDDYRight. Of the 590 that they would like to put up. And of these 354, only 30 of them are actually oil paintings.
EDDYSome of them are pretty impressive, I have to say. The Chagall that everyone saw initially was very beautiful. But also in the meantime there have been some very delicate works put up from Renoir, some interesting works from either -- from also some older artists. And then in addition to those, the remainder are lithographs, drawings, watercolors, a lot of things, and they really vary in quality.
EDDYThere's some, you know, real impressive pieces that are drawings, several from Munch that were done in ink drawings. There are from Ensiled Vacishner (sp?) some wood stampings that are also -- the art historian who initially saw them was going on about their extraordinary color. So although they're divided into these two categories, the non-paintings are not necessarily a lower value.
EDDYThere are some very valuable pieces within...
EDDY...that classification as well.
REHMAll right. You mentioned that the German authorities had gone into Cornelius Gurlitt's apartment because of tax evasion. Can you tell us briefly what we know about Cornelius Gurlitt and his father?
EDDYAbout Cornelius Gurlitt himself we do not know a whole lot, other than he seemed to have inherited this trove of artworks from his mother, and who inherited them from his father. And he kept them secret for decades, living in his Munich apartment where he didn't let in anyone over the decades, not to fix the pipes, not to check the meters. And occasionally he would take these works and he would sell them quietly to a gallery. Sometimes we believe he used middle men. The most recent painting he sold was in 2010. He was already on the radar of authorities then, and that helped them to raise their suspicion and be able to find him.
EDDYThe works actually were collected by his father. His father is a fascinating character. He was a lover of modern art. He held and lost two different directorships of art galleries, or, excuse me, of art museums in the 1930s. He was friends with many of the modern artists who later were considered degenerate by the Nazis, and their works were removed from museums across the country. The interesting thing about Hildebrand Gurlitt, who's the father, is then he wound up collaborating with the Nazis. He was one of four art dealers during World War II who was authorized to sell these modern works. They were supposed to be sold abroad.
EDDYHistorians say some of them he also sold within German. He was also supposed to be collecting works for Hitler's planned museum he wanted to put into Linz in Austria. That museum never came to be. But Hildebrand was tasked with collecting paintings for it, so conceivably some of the works in his collection were intended for that.
REHMI gather there's been an outcry from the families of former Jewish art collectors because of a lack of transparency on the part of the German government, a delay in both releasing the information that this massive cache of art had been found and then delay in posting these on the website. How is Germany going to determine the ownership?
EDDYThat is going to be the job of the taskforce, which has been their answer to that. The outcry has been enormous. The Germans have been accused of not handling this sensitively at all, which with regard to possible heirs who may have been waiting for paintings or searching for paintings. And instead of actively bringing these paintings out, those heirs were left in the dark. The Germans for their part say legally they don't have the basis to put them -- well, this was their original argument, that legally they did not have the basis to publish them.
EDDYUnder the immense pressure, they have now responded with publishing the works that I had previously spoke of on the website. And now the taskforce will be dealing with requests that come in. They have to look for proof of ownership. They're demanding some sort of proof of ownership, which of course in cases of looted art or art sold under duress can be extremely difficult. And it's a question that is still really being worked on.
EDDYWe're watching and waiting to see once this taskforce forms, how will they take up their work and what will be their next steps.
REHMAnd Cornelius Gurlitt himself has actually vanished?
EDDYHe had vanished, and then he was spotted -- well, actually very cleverly one of the magazines here wrote him letters, because he's an 80-year-old man who's had very little dealing with the world. So they found him by simply writing letters to him, and he responded, and he agreed to speak to one journalist. And he has spoken to authorities since then. But in this one interview, he said he wanted his art back. He knew all the history of the art, but he wasn't going to tell the stories.
REHMBecause he says that as many of those pieces of art belong to him legally; isn't that correct?
EDDYThat is correct, which unfortunately -- well, unfortunately, which actually under German law may be the case. There are paintings in the collection that are believed to be among art works that were taken from museums...
EDDY...by the Nazis...
EDDY...and that law would keep them his.
REHMMelissa Eddy, she's Berlin correspondent with The New York Times. Thank you so much for joining us.
EDDYMy pleasure, Diane.
REHMShort break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about lost art, some of which has been recovered in Germany, art looted by the Nazis during World War II. Here in the studio, Lynn Nicholas. She's the author of "The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War." Thomas Kline is an attorney specializing in the recovery of stolen art. Dorothy Kosinski is director of the Phillips Collection here in Washington, D.C. And we are going to take your calls, 800-433-8850. Lynn Nicholas, if I could start with you, do we have any idea how much confiscated art is still out there?
MS. LYNN NICHOLASWell, to be honest we really don't, but after the war the allies recovered hundreds of thousands of works of art that were restituted both to individuals and to countries. And actually there were millions of things that went -- items that went through the Munich and collecting points in Germany. And so -- but clearly not everything was recovered and returned at that time. So there are lots of things left like this Gurlitt stash.
MS. LYNN NICHOLASBut I think it's important to say that the Gurlitt hoard, as it's called, is not necessarily all looted. I mean, there are some items that have been identified but his father was a major dealer of expressionist art, both before the war and then after the war. And so a good deal of it probably could've been his dealer stock. And the things that -- actually there are many paintings in the group painted by Louis Gurlitt who was an uncle or something. And I think that there are other artists in the family. So it is in, you know, many aspects a personal collection.
REHMAt the same time as you heard Melissa say, his father was designated by Hitler to set up this German collection. So isn't it difficult to say whether that art would have been owned by the father or taken from other galleries or individuals?
NICHOLASWell, he had two jobs. The first one was to be a marketer of degenerate art. The German state museums in the '30s decided -- or Hitler basically decided that he didn't like modern art, expressionist art or people like Van Gogh and things like that. So they deaccessioned more than 20,000 works of art from their own museums. They had Nazi committees that went through the museums and chose, as they walked through. If you could imagine this at the Phillips Collection saying, that one, that one, that one goes but I don't like that one.
REHMYeah, gone, yeah.
NICHOLASThat one looks, you know, like an evil...
REHMTake it down.
NICHOLASTake it down. And they marketed these things to get foreign currency. They could only be sold for Swiss francs or dollars or foreign currency because, you know, the Nazi government needed that. And they appointed four dealers who were -- had been specialists in this kind of art most of their lives, to market this. It was not necessarily voluntary choice by Gurlitt because, first of all, he's a quarter Jewish. He had been known as a promoter of the degenerate art, which was considered, you know, nasty. But he was an expert in it. And so they knew that he would be able to market it.
NICHOLASBut they sold these things for nothing, sometimes $1.50 for a painting or three Swiss francs. And so although Gurlitt did market things -- and I haven't seen the records -- the records are very good of what they sold -- what he sold, you know, in his area. But he would've had the opportunity to buy these things himself.
NICHOLASAnd that would've been perfectly legal.
NICHOLASSo that could be one thing. And after the degenerate art thing was over, in the end they got impatient and they burned 16,000 or something -- no, that's too many, but in an exercise by the Berlin fire department. So the more extreme Nazis who burned books that were unsuitable, they did the same thing with the modern art.
REHM...also modern paintings.
NICHOLASThen he was -- Hitler's organization was run by the former head of the Dresden Museum who died in 1943. And a new man was appointed named Hermann Voss who was known to be quite anti-Hitler. And he chose Gurlitt to go buy art for him in France and Holland. So Gurlitt went around mostly to dealers in those countries and bought things. And we don't know necessarily where the dealers got things. They could've been from Jewish families or they could've been French families who wanted to make money because the art market was very, very hot during the Second World War. So it's very complicated.
REHMLynn Nicholas, she's the author of "The Rape of Europa." Turning to you, Dorothy Kosinski, there must be huge challenges to families trying to seek their own art or what they believe to be their own, taken from them or their ancestors.
MS. DOROTHY KOSINSKIOh surely, that's true. I mean, generations later children, grand children have perhaps no idea, only faint recollection or stories. So the museums -- the art museums -- the Association of Art Museum directors, for instance, we take very strongly the stance that it is our responsibility to be as transparent and helpful as possible. You'll find on, I hope, every museum's website an indication of any works that were created, you know, before 1945, purchased perhaps between 1933 and 1945, that do not have a seamless provenance.
MS. DOROTHY KOSINSKIThere has been work going back since the '90s when the AAMD...
KOSINSKI...Association of Art Museum Directors issued guidelines. There is a Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal NEPIP, which people can visit. So I think there's been an increasing insistence on making any works -- that's not to say that a work posted on a website is necessarily tainted, but it's there for families to see, to do research. And I think that's the most important way by which museums can be helpful.
REHMDorothy Kosinski. She's director of the Phillips Collection, a wonderful art gallery here in Washington, D.C. Tom Kline, you've helped people who are seeking to find art that they believe had been taken from them during that era. But the rules, I gather, differ from country to country. How do you go about helping people?
MR. THOMAS KLINEWell, thank you very much, Diane, for including me in this panel and good morning everyone. I would add I do represent American museums and American collectors who have claims. And the approach is really the same whether you're assisting a claimant or a claim recipient, which is to develop all the facts. As we heard just now from Dorothy, provenance information is very important. That's a history of ownership location.
REHMAnd how you trace that has got to be so complicated.
KLINEWell, luckily for me that's not my expertise. I have worked with Lynn on a number of cases and with other researchers. But developing the factual record is very important. What Lynn was talking about is how complicated every individual painting's history can be. For example, when Hitler forced museums to divest themselves -- this is museums within Germany to divest themselves of degenerate art, he had the authority to do that. And no one questions that authority. Museums would like that art back but there's really no legal claim by those German museums to get back the degenerate art that they were forced to sell or give away.
KLINEOn the other hand, if an object was confiscated or the subject of a forced sale in an occupied country or within Germany, then there could be a claim. But what law governs that claim? Terrific presentation by Melissa before but it just walked us up to the question of what this task force is going to do when they collect all the facts about the Gurlitt collection. Because typically in Germany for a private owner, the claims would have been extinguished by the passage of time.
REHMSeventy-five years. And when did that passage of time cut off?
KLINEWell, I can't say exactly. That's a little beyond my expertise, but it's typically 25 or 30 years. In fact, when I started doing work for German museums, they had a lot of trouble believing that there were claims that still existed in the United States for art looted by American soldiers because in Germany the claims would be extinguished. And that continues to be a little bit of a mindset problem for German institutions.
REHMSo these rules, as you said, I mean, they're so complicated and if an individual hearing this program, for example, living in Iowa believes that a piece of art on this website belongs to him or her, what's the first step that someone like that takes, Lynn?
NICHOLASThis is -- well, it's a very complicated question. There is no one place that you can go to. So you would typically try to contact somebody like Tom or there are groups like the Art Lost Register where you can go and look at the websites where the various governments have listed things that they think might be claimable. Museums -- if you know where the thing is and you start with where it is, the museum or you can write to them or -- but it is very difficult to get started. There is no really place for a regular person who's not a big collector to go and just say, hey help me.
NICHOLASAnd -- but that initiative -- many museums are trying to start things like that. The Smithsonian, for instance, has started a provenance research institute to try to -- and there's a lot of discussion about having a place where people can go to get started. So...
REHMI wonder whether there are museums here in this country who might, in fact, have some of this looted art which has wound up in their museums. Do we know that, Tom?
KLINEWell, we never know for sure until it's -- a case is resolved by agreement or by a court decision...
REHMHave there been some?
KLINEYes, there have been some. And what Dorothy was referring to, the term that the art museum directors -- the Association of Art Museum Directors uses is covered works. These are works that would've changed hands in Nazi Germany and not have a complete record of what happened, or in an occupied territory. And so museums, since 1998, have been making a special effort to identify these works and to list them on their websites because of the transparency that really drives a lot of this process.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have so many callers. We'll open the phones, see what their questions, comments are, 800-433-8850. First let's go to Gloria in Miami, Fla. You're on the air.
GLORIAOh, thank you, Diane. It's such a joy to talk to you.
GLORIAI think this is the most noble endeavor but my feelings for this. My husband was a survivor of Auschwitz. He lost everyone. He always told us of the beautiful things in his home, especially crystal. We don't know much about art but he was only 17 when he went to Auschwitz. And he went after the war in the camps. He went home to see if he could get any personal things at all. And the people who occupied his home came out with a knife and said, nothing here is yours.
GLORIASo as far as the generation of holocaust survivors, they're going -- they're gone. He was 79 five years ago and the youngest survivors that I know of are in their middle 70s. They weren't in camps. They were hidden children. And so they would have no knowledge of what their parents had in their homes. So I can't imagine how they could ever find it. And I'm just thinking that all the money that could be earned from their sales, all these wonderful things, should go to charities. The money was used originally for evil. And if this money could be used, because I don't see how they can trace them. Thank you so much.
REHMAll right. Thank you so much for calling. Any thoughts?
NICHOLASWell, that -- there was -- right after the war there were Jewish successor organizations that did gather together what's called heirless property. And they did sell -- they had auctions and whatnot and, you know, they asked -- what they got from the auctions went to take care of the kind of people you describe. And I don't know if that still goes on exactly that way but that has been done as far as could -- as was possible.
NICHOLASBut the trouble is that if an object is found, people are worried that if they sell things at a group auction, which happened at an auction called Mauerbach in Austria some years ago, they're worried that there may actually be an owner or the heir of an owner who will then say, oh wait a minute. That actually belongs to my family. So it's a very difficult, delegate situation.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Sue in Raleigh, N.C. You're on the air.
SUEHello. I've been burning to ask this question. I visited a gallery at a private university in the south. They had world class artwork, Tintoretto and Rubens and Rembrandt and Botticelli. Their own brochure, I'm quoting, "The University ventured into the art market shortly after World War II when many fine works of art were available." And my question is, would a private university collection be required to show legitimate provenance of their collection?
KLINEWell, that's a great question on many levels. We see numerous museums, particularly smaller museums, university museums that have this problem. The art market was buoyant after the war for a variety of reasons. And I think what's challenging about Sue's question is the word required. As Dorothy mentioned, the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Association of Museums have issued guidelines under which museums should be researching the provenance of these objects and should be posting them on the internet.
KLINERight. And there -- but there is no enforcement mechanism. I, for one, would like to see the organizations rejuvenate their efforts to keep an eye on museums and encourage them to report.
REHMAnd what are you saying? Perhaps in some cases museums say they don't have the necessary resources to do that?
KLINEThat's definitely the next challenge, is finding the resources for museums to do more provenance research, particularly the museums outside the largest group.
REHMTom Kline. He's an attorney who specializes in the recovery of stolen art. We'll take more of your calls, your email when we come back after a short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about stolen art. And stolen art come from many places. Here's an email from Sandra, who says, "While the seizure of the Jewish art collections is compelling, why is the sale of Hopi and Apache artwork stolen in the early 20th century acceptable? The public auction was conducted in Paris, France this month brought someone an estimated 55 million Euro. Why is there a different attitude by governments and courts about the theft and sale of Native American religious artifacts?" Tom?
KLINEWell, I'd like to emphasize how terrific this question is because the holocaust related art thefts have galvanized people's attention since the mid 90's, since Lynn's book, really, and the emotionality that attaches to that issue because the thefts were connected to genocide. But we still have serious issues in this country and in Europe with Native American objects, antiquities and other objects that have been displaced during war time or everyday thefts. And all these objects are justice stolen in terms of the law.
KLINEIn fact, I started my work in this area representing the Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus in recovering art objects from churches in the Turkish occupied area, where pretty much every church, every museum had been stripped by looters. And thousands of those objects have gone abroad into the art market in Europe, particularly in Germany, ironically, in Munich, since the 1974 invasion and occupation. But the point I want to emphasize is that the same law governs these thefts.
KLINEIf these are thefts from the early 20th century, then the claims...
KLINE...may be very difficult, due to the passage of time. It's almost 100 years. Normally, statutes of limitations are shorter. But I think we see an increasing sensitivity to Native American issues. Both in the art market and with the U.S. government. One thing we always emphasize, which most people don't think about and maybe they shouldn't bother is we don't have a cultural ministry in this country. So that emphasizes the patchwork. Who in the United States is going to go to France and make a claim or assist claimants? Is it the State Department? The Interior Department, which normally looks over Indian lands?
KLINESo that's why American museums have so much autonomy and authority because they set their own standards.
REHMDorothy Kosinski, is there any question or has there ever been any question about a piece of art in The Phillips Collection that whose provenance is under examination because of perhaps belonging to Native Americans, perhaps coming from Nazi art? Has there ever been a question?
KOSINSKII believe we've never been approached with a claim, but on our website we talk about our provenance research. And there are approximately 250 paintings, works on paper and sculptures which were created before 1945 and acquired after 1933. So that means we post those works, we continue to attempt to clarify the provenance, but that's the kind of emphasis on transparency on availability of information that I was mentioning at the outset.
REHMBut there has never been a single individual who has come to The Phillips--
KOSINSKINot to my knowledge.
REHMNot to your knowledge. All right. Let's go now to Mark, in Lebanon, N.H. Hi, there.
MARKHi. Thank you for taking my call.
MARKAnd it's a pleasure to speak to you. I love your show.
REHMThank you. Thanks.
MARKI listen to is religiously. My only comment and real question is my grandfather had to flee Austria as a result of the Nazi occupation. And he was a Catholic Austrian. As a result, everything, all of his possessions were obviously confiscated by the Nazis, as were many Austrian socialites. When he attempted to get some reparation, he was basically told by multiple groups that because he wasn't Jewish or of Jewish descent he shouldn't even bother. And his attitude really was, well, gee, if one group or person is excluded from this process, I mean, really why shouldn't every single group be excluded.
MARKAnd I'd like to comment personally that I agree with your first caller. It's impossible to find out who owned this and the legacy of this art. And any proceeds that are made from the recovery of this art should be donated to charities or certain foundations that provide services to others.
REHMAll right, Mark.
MARKAnd I'd like to take this comment off the air.
REHMThanks so much for your call. Tom?
KLINEYeah, I'd like to comment on that. There is an unfortunate trend to treat this as a Jewish problem. And it's very far from that. Many of my clients didn't consider themselves Jews, their parents or grandparents may have converted. There's a lot of work that's been done in the East where the collections were nationalized by socialist governments before World War II. So the losers there were the states, not the Jews. The Jews and everybody else had already lost their collections. So there are many losses during this terrible time of turmoil, especially losses of art seized by even Western Allied soldiers on their own or Soviet soldiers on their own or officially.
KLINESo I think our caller is putting his finger on a very good way of looking at this issue. It's a very broad problem, much broader.
REHMLynn, do we know how much of that lost art has actually been recovered?
NICHOLASWell, the numbers are always very difficult because you, first of all, what is included? Because they took books, coins, plates, so, you know, the numbers are in the millions. But I usually think that about 80 percent of what was looted has been identified, its location has been identified. And a lot of it has been restituted. But just because we know where it is doesn't mean that it always belongs to the right person. And I'm thinking particularly of the many works of art that in the former Soviet Union. The Russians didn't have a restitution process, they just --when they came to Germany, invaded, they just took back everything in truckloads.
NICHOLASAnd they have kept a lot of it. And though…
REHMTook back? When you…
NICHOLASTook back, train loads full of art and everything, refrigerators, you know, everything. And most of what they still have and most of what they took then belongs to German private collectors and German museums. And in the '50s they gave back many things to Eastern bloc countries, but they did not give things back to West Germany.
NICHOLASOr to private collectors because the communists didn't believe in private property. So those things still remain there. And since they lot more 20 million people to the German invasion, they have nationalized these things. And it's not likely that they're going to -- it's a very political issue.
REHMHere's an email, from Madonna. She said, "I've read many families have received reparations for their losses. Does that mean they cannot sue to recover the actual item? Or more importantly, does the government's payment of the item add credence to their claim of ownership when they try to recover the physical item?" Good question.
KLINEGood question and all of that is true. Typically, if an object has been returned to a family the -- or settled in some way or there's been -- I guess the question was if there's been a reparations payment, the government that made the payment did not take title to the object. It stayed with the family. So if the family finds the object it can make the claim. And sometimes it has make a return payment to the government that advanced the money, but typically title doesn't change.
REHMAll right. To Steve in Potomac, Md. You're on the air.
STEVEHi. Good morning, Diane.
STEVEAnd to your guests. How are you? I just want to mention that in 1985, 1986 I led the investigation for the late Congressman Sidney Yates, who you may recall in the Congress, into Austria's illegal withholding of all the Nazi-looted art that they still had. This involves a lot of what your guest referred to as the Mauerbach Auction, which took place about 10 years later or so. And for your listeners I just want to mention a couple quick things. First of all, the Austrian state treaty of 1951, which Tom might be familiar with, expressly states that Austria was required to restitute or in some kind return stolen cultural property from persecuted cultural and religious minorities, of which the Catholics would have been one.
STEVESo they're clearly covered in that sense. And the violations in regard to the Austrian state treaty were actually what gave us greater authority to do what we did. But two quick things, one if your panel can talk about the fact that our National Archives and the Ardelia Hall Collection has massive amounts of all the German war records of the looted art. So there's a lot of information there. I personally poured through over 500 boxes of records to determine what happened with Austria. And in fact, our State Department actually returned a lot of that art to Austria. It was quite a travesty. We did such a poor job of de-Nazifying Austria, that our State Department was essentially a court of special pleadings.
STEVEThe smoking gun, Diane, was a manifest of that artwork being returned from the central collecting points in Germany, back to the hands of the Austrians, who Hitler deputized to take it. And then the last thing I point out is so many years seems to pass that it's ironic -- we did our investigation in '85, '86. Austria finally confessed that they had not only had the artwork and published an international list of this for all to see, they also had changed their heirless property laws that were established after the war and reversed them so that people couldn't file suit anymore.
STEVEBut I hope your panel will discuss this a little bit because there are records in our National Archives, lengthy inventories of what the Nazis stole, often down to a person and family who they stole it from. I'm not saying it's all there, you know, for everybody to easily trace.
REHMBut it's there.
STEVEIt's an amazing thing. Yes.
REHMYes. Thanks for calling, Steve.
STEVEYou're welcome. Lynn?
NICHOLASOh, well, Steve is absolutely right about the National Archives. It has millions of records. It has all the records of Hitler's major suppliers, the dealers who worked for him and including the post-war investigations by the Allies of Gurlitt. He was interrogated by the French, by the British, I mean by the Dutch, by the Americans. They seized a lot of his property. So all the records of what was given back to him, it's all right there. And now a wonderful person at the National Archives, Greg Bradsher, who has made a finding aid which we all call the bible, is 4,000 pages long. But it is a finding aid of most documents that relate to holocaust-era assets.
NICHOLASAnd I think probably they didn't have it when Steve was there or when I did my work, but it's an incredible resource, but not easy for the average person to use.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." When you say it's not easy for the average person to use, you're saying, basically, that if you are a person who believes that your art is or could be part of that Gurlitt collection, you've got to go to someone like Tom for help, that it's very difficult to do it on your own, Lynn.
NICHOLASWell, with the Gurlitt collection I don't know who's going to be on the -- what the task force is she's talking about.
NICHOLASBut they have already appointed seven provenance researchers in Germany to go through the list and publish the list and give the basic information. So if there is any indication of ownership and there'll be photographs and measurements, which are terribly important because people don't realize how many pictures one artist did of the same thing.
REHMSure, of course. The Van Gogh Exhibit.
NICHOLASThe Van Gogh, so you can say, oh, I think, you know -- not, that's at such and such museum, but actually there are five of them. So it's very important to identify the work of art and the possible owners. And I do think with the Gurlitt things, it will be up very soon and people will be able to look things up.
REHMYou wanted to add to that, Dorothy?
KOSINSKIWell, I think that the provenance research is really a challenge, even for professionals. It just demands a lot of intensive work and time, access to the right documentation. It's certainly possible to do it, but it's a big investment from an individual or from an institution.
REHMTom, how successful have you been? How successful, over this many, many years, in trying to help people get their artwork back?
KLINEWell, I've generally been successful, depending on the merits of the case. And we have to look at each case very specifically. And we've gotten an idea, both from Dorothy and Lynn, how tough that is and how many facts have to be brought to bear. And we've had a little bit of a discussion about the legal complexity in terms of especially what law governs, whether it's U.S. law or some particular state or foreign law. But generally speaking, I think if the merits are presented, the cases can be worked out. We try to stay out of court because court proceedings are so expensive.
REHMOf course. And we've talked an awful lot this morning about the German cache, but at the same time, didn't a great deal of that German art end up here in this country, Lynn?
NICHOLASYou mean the Expressionist, Degenerate art?
NICHOLASYes. Because it was considered, you know, as being deaccessioned by the German state museums and our government had recognized that as the legal government. So when the things were for sale, there was no reason not to buy them. They're not considered loot and they still are not considered loot. In fact, the German museums, after the war, got together and said that they would not claim these things. So they are in many, many museums in the United States and indeed all over the world. So that if they change the status of those it would be -- the mind boggles at the thought. And I would be very surprised if they would.
REHMAll right. We'll have to leave it at that. Thank you all so much. Lynn Nicholas. She's the author of "The Rape of Europo." Thomas Kline specializes in the recovery of stolen art. Dorothy Kosinski is director of The Phillips Collection here in Washington, D.C. I'm sure we'll be hearing and seeing a great deal more about this. Thank you all.
NICHOLASThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
Most Recent Shows
Maya Angelou came onto this program several times over the years. But in her last conversation with Diane, in 2013, she talked about writing about her fraught relationship with her mother for the first time. Her last words to Diane: “I love you, Diane Rehm. And I look forward to seeing you and talking to you again and again.” A year later, she died at the age of 86. In one of Diane's most treasured interviews, the women reflect on forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
Mary Chapin Carpenter joins Diane to talk about her new album, the "artistic insight of middle age" and rewriting her life story in new ways.
A rebroadcast of Diane's 1999 interview with J.K. Rowling, author of the acclaimed Harry Potter series.