Expert Says Nazis Stole Art

February 14, 2000

A U.S. government’s top art expert from the World War II era said the Nazis stole 600,000 pieces of art in Germany and the European lands they occupied during Hitler’s 12 years in power.

About 200,000 works came from Germany itself, including paintings, sculpture and tapestries, according to testimony from Jonathan Petropoulose to the House Banking Committee on Thursday.

Petropoulose, research director on art for the Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States, estimated 100,000 objects came from Western Europe and 300,000 from Eastern Europe and parts of the Soviet Union, all occupied by German troops in the war.

Ronald S. Lauder, chairman of the art recovery program of the World Jewish Congress, said the German government has agreed to take an active role with the U.S. commission in trying to return stolen art which is not an easy task.

“There are no Swiss banks that retained assets in the face of survivors’ pleas and there are no insurance companies that demanded death certificates from the children of Jews who were gassed by the Nazis,”

Lauder said. Lauder, a former ambassador to Austria, noted that only last week the North Carolina Museum of Art agreed to return a 500-year-old painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder to a pair of aging sisters in Vienna. It had been stolen from their grand-uncle 60 years ago.

Petropoulose, who teaches history at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and has recently published a book on the art world of Nazi Germany, said his estimates are based on research by himself and others, and the commission will publish its report later this year.

He said 43 other governments also have commissions trying to find missing art.

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