Jewish leader warns Swiss museum against accepting German art hoard

The head of the World Jewish Congress warned a Swiss art museum that it risks an “avalanche” of lawsuits if it accepts the bequest of a collection of artwork amassed by a man who dealt in art for the Nazis.

The Bern Art Museum discovered in May it had been named sole heir of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a man who dealt in so-called “degenerate” art for Adolf Hitler. The Bern museum has yet to decide whether to accept the artwork.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said that since Gurlitt's father, Hildebrand, had collected art stolen by the Nazis from Jewish collectors or taken from German state museums, Bern would have a problem on its hands if it accepted the works before their provenance has been fully investigated.

“If this museum in Switzerland gets involved with this inheritance, it will open Pandora's box and unleash an avalanche of lawsuits – possibly from German museums, but certainly from the descendants of the Jewish owners,” Lauder said.

“The people in Bern will harm themselves and their country if they take these paintings before their provenance is cleared up. They would become a museum of stolen art,” he told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview to be published on Sunday.

Gurlitt died in May at the age of 81, in the flat in Munich where he lived and stored the art collection. The Bern museum said news of his bequest came “like a bolt from the blue,” because it had not had any connection with him.

Hundreds of masterpieces by the likes of Chagall and Picasso were secretly stored by Gurlitt at the Munich apartment and a house in nearby Salzburg, Austria. He occasionally sold pieces to finance his quiet lifestyle and his healthcare. The collection is worth an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion).

The Gurlitt family had said its collection was destroyed in the bombing of their home in Dresden during World War Two. Its survival remained secret until 2012, when tax inspectors stumbled across the hoard during an unrelated inquiry.

The Bern museum denied a German media report last month that it had decided to accept the artworks. It said it was still in talks with German authorities to ascertain all the implications of accepting the inheritance.

“In the end our board of trustees is free to decide whether it is in the best interests of the Bern Art Museum to accept or decline the estate,” it said in a statement in mid-October.

Website with sample of Nazi-looted art is overwhelmed

A website showing a small sample from a trove of Nazi-looted art found in a Munich apartment was flooded with hits.

Out of a total of more than 1,400 works, an initial list of 25 with photos went online Monday.

“There were so many hits that the site was overwhelmed,” a staff member of the German Federal Coordination Center for Lost Art, based in Magdeburg, told JTA. She said works would be added to the list gradually.

German authorities bowed to international pressure by publishing a partial list of the works. The list may help those who are trying to reunite the long-lost art with their rightful heirs.

The find — including works by Chagall, Picasso, Matisse and Beckmann — was publicized by the Munich-based Focus magazine earlier this month.

Inquiries from potential heirs or their representatives should be sent to the office of the State Prosecutor in Augsburg at

Germany also is assembling a task force of experts to speed up provenance research. Heading the team will be German attorney Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, former assistant secretary to the federal commissioner for culture and media.

Customs investigators seized the paintings, sketches and sculptures, dating from the 16th century to the modern period, last year but stayed silent until now because they had chanced upon the art during a tax evasion probe, which compels secrecy.

The secrecy and the failure so far to publish a complete list of the works has attracted criticism from those who argue that publicizing such finds is crucial to establishing their ownership and returning them to their rightful owners.

A statement on the Lost Art website explained that about 970 of the works found in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt — son of the Nazi-era collector Hildebrand Gurlitt — may fall into the category of art deemed by the Nazis to be “degenerate,” or works stolen during the Nazi era. Of these, 380 have been identified as works that the Nazis confiscated during their “Action Against Degenerate Art” campaign in 1937.

Researchers are investigating the background of the remaining works, the center said in its statement.

Israel Museum puts rare artworks up for sale

The Israel Museum is selling 38 rare pieces of art estimated to be worth $17 million.

The money earned from the auctions will go to update the Jerusalem museum’s collection, the Israeli business daily Globes reported.

The works going up for auction by Sotheby’s beginning next month include paintings by Magritte, Pissarro, Picasso and Chagall.

The museum decided to sell off some of its artwork due to a reduction in donations and a need to purchase newly recognized important works of art, according to Globes.

There are 500,000 objects and works of art in the Israel Museum’s collection.

Films: just what made Adolf run?

Since the Fuehrer took over Germany in 1933, hundreds of feature films, TV miniseries and documentaries have tried to answer the question: Just What Made Adolf Run?
One of the more useful — and odder — examples is “Black Fox: The True Story of Adolf Hitler,” which won the 1962 Academy Award for documentaries.
The films screens Sept. 18 and kicks off the 11-part “Oscar’s Docs: Part Two,” a retrospective of the top full-length and short documentaries from 1961 to 1976.A primary virtue of “Black Fox” is to cram into its 90 minutes a concise, highly visual history of Hitler’s career arc, from his birth in 1889 to his suicide in 1945, with the hanging of his top henchmen following the Nuremberg trial as a postscript.
Using little-known historical footage, the film touches Hitler’s school days, failed artist’s career in Vienna, World War I combat, unsuccessful 1923 putsch, imprisonment and early leadership of the Nazi Party to his better-known roles as initiator of World War II, murderer of millions, and defeated warlord.
With equal economy and skill, filmmaker Louis Clyde Stoumen and narrator Marlene Dietrich sketch daily life in Germany under the Kaiser, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi regime.
In what must have seemed like a brilliant concept at the time, Stoumen likens Hitler’s rise to the medieval fable of Reynard the Fox. Reynard is a shrewd trickster, who gains dominance of the animal kingdom by a combination of ruthlessness, hypocritical piety, and the promise to save the animals from the wolf (read Joseph Stalin).
Abetting the fox are the bear (Hermann Goering) and the donkey (Joseph Goebbels).
The film intercuts between the real Hitler and his foxy alter ego, but the allegory becomes increasingly labored and fades away toward the end of the documentary.
Following the “Black Fox” screening on Sept. 18 are two other films of special interest.
“Chagall” on Sept. 25 is a short documentary that combines an analysis of the artist’s painting with his personal story, against a backdrop of world events of the time. The film was shot when Chagall was in his 70s and won a 1963 Oscar.
“Number Our Days” will be shown Nov. 27. The 1976 Academy Award winner affectionately portrays the residents of the Israel Levine Senior Adult Center in Venice as the landscape and population changes around them.
Oscar’s Docs” will be presented on consecutive Mondays at 7:30 p.m. from Sept. 18-Nov. 27 at the Linwood Dunn Theatre, 1313 N. Vine St., Hollywood.