By Amy Singer, Ph.D. and Danielle Singer
When you think of recovering Nazi-stolen treasures, the obvious place to start a search would be Germany. How about Bavaria? Bavaria as a country doesn't exist any more. It is now the second biggest state in Germany. But according to Germany's news source, Spiegel – Bavaria loomed large when it came to stealing Jewish art work and property.
It is well known that during their 12 years of tyranny -- Hitler, Goring and many other Nazi leaders looted over 650,000 priceless works of art from Jewish collectors. The Art objects were sold off in a panic after 1933, or were simply taken from their rightful owners before they disappeared into concentration camps.
Today descendants of Holocaust victims still find themselves in an uphill battle with foreign governments and museums to recover their family heirlooms. Often they are forced to do their own research and, in case of doubt, fight for their family legacy by going to court.
In their January 2013 issue, Spiegel, reports that in researching the Third Reich, they discovered documents that attest that not only Germany, but the State of Bavaria -- in the 60's and 70's “threw works from the Hitler and Goring collections onto the market at basement prices, and neglected to turn over the proceed to the possible previous owners or to Jewish Organizations.”
The documents tracked how Bavarian lakeside real estate seized by the Nazis changed hands for ridiculously low prices, even though the proceeds initially supposed were to be paid into a special fund for victims of the Nazi regime. Hundreds of drawings were found that had been hidden in steel cabinets for decades, partly to avoid having to face the heirs of Jewish art collectors. Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, quietly and secretly withheld more than 100 paintings that are now part of a collection, probably worth millions, from the Bavarian Government.
One family fighting to recover their heirlooms from the Bavarian government are the descendants of famed composer Felix Mendelssohn and banker Paul Von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. They are asking for the return of the Picasso painting “Madame Soler” from the Bavarian State Collections. Back in the 1930's, the Nazis ejected Von Mendelssohn from the German banking association and the Reich's insurance office. The banker realized he had to quickly divest his spectacular art collection before it was taken by Hitler, and got it to an art dealer in Switzerland. The Bavarian State Paintings Collections claims they purchased it which is emphatically disputed by the Mendelssohn family.
For families, like the Mendelssohn's, recovering Nazi loot can take decades and decades, if at all. And all though Bavaria is one of 44 countries that signed the Washington Principles, which promises to try to expedite a just and fair solution to Nazi looting, they and other governments and museums have been accused of stalling the return of priceless artwork and property.
“The Principles provide an excellent paradigm”, Anne Webber, co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe told Bloomberg News in 2009. “The problem is that for the most part, they haven't been implemented.”
And 4 years later countless lawsuits have been and will continue to be filed in courts around the world to return Nazi stolen loot to its rightful Jewish owners.