Nazi-Art Bust: 6 Unanswered Questions

The German government has "kept the secret" of the hoard for years, a magazine report says

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Ullstainbild / Reuters

Adolf Hitler at an art exhibition in Dresden in 1935

Correction appended: Nov. 5, 2013

The legacy of Nazi war crimes resurfaced on Monday when a German magazine reported that a trove of artworks looted from Jewish collectors had been discovered in a Munich apartment. According to the weekly Focus magazine, the hoard of paintings could be worth more than a billion dollars, as it includes masterpieces by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Paul Klee. German authorities discovered the works almost by accident in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Munich art collector. As the details of the case have continued to emerge, so have the questions about the German authorities’ decisionmaking. Here are some of the more pressing questions raised so far:

Why are we only learning about this now?
According to Focus, the roughly 1,500 paintings in Gurlitt’s collection were found in the spring of 2011, when authorities searched his home in relation to charges of tax evasion. Tax officials and police thus seem to have known about the artworks for nearly three years, but they failed to make their discovery public. This has already raised concerns about a possible cover-up, with Focus alleging that the authorities “kept the secret” for years.

How did Gurlitt sell the paintings without arousing suspicion?
The 80-year-old recluse reportedly made his living by selling the paintings at auction from time to time. Even after the 2011 raid on his apartment, he managed to sell off another one of his paintings — a work by German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann — for roughly a million dollars at the Lempertz auction house in Cologne, according to the Focus report.

How could the son of an alleged Nazi collaborator stay off the grid?
Gurlitt’s father Hildebrandt was known in international art circles for helping Nazi leaders monetize the artworks seized from Jewish families. Hildebrandt Gurlitt, an historian and art dealer who was Jewish on his mother’s side, had reportedly fulfilled this role at the request of Adolf Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. But the art dealer’s only surviving son managed to avoid registering with German tax authorities and social-services organizations for years. “He was a man who didn’t exist,” a German official was quoted by Focus as saying.

(MORE: Found: Nazi Records of Hitler’s Looted Art)

Why did investigators believe that the works had been destroyed?
At the end of World War II, Hildebrandt Gurlitt was reportedly captured by American forces and claimed during interrogation that his family’s art collection had perished during the 1945 bombing of Dresden, where the family had a home. Because of his Jewish heritage, the elder Gurlitt was deemed a victim of Nazi persecution and released. He continued trading art until his death in a car accident in 1956. It is not clear whether the postwar government in Germany ever tried to confirm whether Gurlitt’s art collection had really been destroyed.

How seriously does Germany take warrants for stolen art?
According to Focus, 200 of the works found in the younger Gurlitt’s apartment are the subject of international warrants. One of the works by Matisse reportedly belonged to the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg, who was forced to leave his collection behind in Paris after fleeing the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. His granddaughter, Anne Sinclair, a prominent French-American journalist who was married to former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been campaigning for decades to get her family’s art collection back.

How did Gurlitt manage to hide his wealth?
In 2010, German customs officials conducted a routine inspection of Gurlitt’s baggage on a train returning from Switzerland, Focus reported. The €9,000 in cash they found in his possession raised the suspicion of German tax authorities, who then secured a warrant to search Gurlitt’s cluttered apartment the following year. His apparent visits to Switzerland, the world’s largest tax haven, will likely raise questions about his use of offshore banks to stash the money he earned from selling paintings. Under the secrecy laws that govern Swiss banks, Gurlitt would have been able to hide his ownership of Swiss bank accounts or safe-deposit boxes from German authorities.

PHOTOS: Adoring Hitler: Color Photos of a Tyrant Among the Crowds

An earlier version of this article misstated the surname of the German Expressionist painter. He is Max Beckmann, not Beckerman.

47 comments
JohnnyWhite
JohnnyWhite

For the Jew, there is NEVER a statute of limitations. For the rest of the Gentile world, time has always "run out."  Israel refuses to return war criminals to foreign nation states claiming " the statute of limitations has run out." Yet, for the Jew, reparations from over half a century should be paid by US auto manufacturing companies like Ford Motor Company because the Jew has family members from the Holocaust and is a "victim."   Only the Jew has a life with "value." The Gentile is merely "as cattle or sheep." Wake up America!  You are being "scammed" again!  The "holo-hoax" is nothing but a "shake-down racket." 

Ruth Feldman
Ruth Feldman

They were found in the house of the son of the Nazi in charge of looting that type of "decadent" art. The German government probably does not want to give the art back to the museums and Jewish victims they were stolen from.

Torian Kennedy
Torian Kennedy

Have it your way Mein Fuhrer, show them that the thought of a single all powerful individual changing history to his liking is no Torainian dream.

Nicole Poole
Nicole Poole

Find the rightful owners/heirs and give them back.

Bjorn Viberg
Bjorn Viberg

The man should be compensated and the art should be show at the Art Museum in Munich.

Mark Jacang
Mark Jacang

Hint: Denazification didn't really take place, at least not in West Germany.

Kaleb Lee
Kaleb Lee

Love the reaction in Hitler's face in the picture: goes to show that he can't get on that level of pure talented artist. XD

Kat Arnheiter Vaughan
Kat Arnheiter Vaughan

The art should be returned to their rightful owners (family) or sold and proceeds donated to the Holocaust Museum or other Jewish cause. This was kept from the public due to selfishness, greed, and plain evil....how they were acquired more sinister.

Julia Hogan
Julia Hogan

Hitler made a lampshade out of human skin i really hope time life doesn't feel the need to share that too..

Bjorn Viberg
Bjorn Viberg

The issue. Did the person know that the item was stolen or not. That should be taken into consideration. Was it done knowing or not knowing. Otherwise it is punishing an innocent person. That can not be a fair law?

Tessie Garcia
Tessie Garcia

they were located years ago, public is only finding out about it now. do you really think that hitlers house was never searched after WW2? So much goes on behind the public eye. They keep so many secrets from us.

Martin McNickle
Martin McNickle

If I buy something that is stolen, I do not get compensated. That's how life works.

Habte Gutema
Habte Gutema

Anyway, there is a lot to be known....I think about these art works.

Okey Chen
Okey Chen

Giving back to original owners? In your wild dream, it has been 70 years who has proper document to prove it, even it proved but hey it is GERMAN Nazi pass down to Modern Nazi.

Araba Akompi
Araba Akompi

What is happening to the world renowned TIME Magazine? This is the second spelling/grammatical error this morning. You mean a "horde" of paintings, which is a noun. Not a hoard which is a verb that means to collect or store excessive amounts of things. Earlier, you used "anybody's" when you meant "anybody."

Okey Chen
Okey Chen

German government will collect all the arts. Then what is different between German Gov and Nazi. They are German and also art criminals likely to possess stolen arts.

Lector Paulus Petrus Kim
Lector Paulus Petrus Kim

I hope they should not return to public. They should be returned to the original owners or must be kept by we, art lovers personally.

Bjorn Viberg
Bjorn Viberg

But he should be compensated. He did buy the art in good faith.

Rachel Eva
Rachel Eva

Uh.... a national art gallery so that the public has access to viewing?

Ruud Mahn
Ruud Mahn

please do not call it nazi art. it is the opposite actually.

Yoshinori Todo
Yoshinori Todo

Irrelevant quedtion A better question would be... who the hell is (or was) this guy?

Caesar J. B. Squitti
Caesar J. B. Squitti

Ever since the days of Adam and eve...you know, 'we knew we were naked so we hid..." a faulty logic considering you can't hide from God ;) Now we find these paintings...? Have you considered how many bombs were dropped on Germany and in Europe...? So who ever hid them, protected them from their destruction...? Let us not always pick on one side and ignore the atheist communists under Stalin using German Marxist half-truths, 'we are all equal' to corrupt the world..? based on the book, "The Caesar Squitti Code"...to those who don't mind religion, call it "The Jesus Christ Code". Human logic is a devilish thing...it can lie.

Bjorn Viberg
Bjorn Viberg

Let the man keep them. WW2 was over almost 70 years ago. The owners are already dead. So who will get them then?

Tessie Garcia
Tessie Garcia

Why are only learning about this now? What difference would it have made if we knew about it earlier? If you study who Hitler was, you knew he was in to art, he himself had painted many paintings. It doesnt come as a big surprise that he had an art collection.

lexie144
lexie144

In #2 -> Please correct the name of the artist is Max BECKMANN, one of Germany's most important Expressionists. Thank you. 

ascendedhart
ascendedhart

After all, how much should we be bragging about a system where it takes $20 million to be elected to the Senate; or where a majority of our members of Congress choose their voters through gerrymandering rather than voters choosing them; or where voting rights laws are being weakened; or where lawmakers spend most of their free time raising money, not studying issues; or where our Congress has become a forum for legalized bribery; or where we just had a minority of a minority threaten to undermine America’s credit rating if we didn’t overturn an enacted law on health care; or where we can’t pass even the most common sense gun law banning assault weapons after the mass murder of schoolchildren? 

What is your definition of success?  Or maybe you should spell your 'sucksess',..,   just another money lover who has little

vison of what a real beautiful specie the humans could be..,,.

david.gumbeedog
david.gumbeedog

But Odessa never existed...right?  The real truth will never be known, and another despot will rise again.  We never learn.

alurlyrx
alurlyrx

People remain greedy, selfish, and mean to the end of their lives when money is at stake. It might take years, but the heirs should receive compensation.

DavidWoroner
DavidWoroner

Funny how TIME forgets to mention that Hitler was TIMEs Man of The Year <> and Cover <> check for yourselves.

rlsavedbygod
rlsavedbygod

Even 70 years after his death he is able to create havoc among the world. Also he's able to bring pain and suffering to the very people  he tried to destroy. these paintings should go back to there owners, or there children or even grandchildren.

ChristofSchumann
ChristofSchumann

After 70 years all claims have been lost. There is no legal basis in place, to return the art to the sons and daughters of the former owners jewish or whatsoever. It is highly possible that all of the art has to be returned to the son of the jewish art dealer and  trader Gurlitt.

DougCheriBledsoe
DougCheriBledsoe

hate is still here. sad that success is so looked down on.

ascendedhart
ascendedhart

How did the jews get the paintings in the first place?  One of the reasons why Hitler was so put out was because the jews

had monopolized the banking system and taken away German's properties by usury tactics.  The fact is the paintings are

the worlds,.,.,a human being painted something,.,.,so its there for everyone to enjoy,.,.,the banking system and the whole

of the American debacle has the same roots as someone trying to own a painting and put a huge value on it ,.,.,.,.and get 

rich,.,.,. jew,.,.germans,,.,. anybody,..,.  its imperative that we just share things,.,. ,not make inequality greater by hording

art works and valuing natural resources as 'somebody's' to sell for a  ''profit''  ,.,.,. ugh.,.,. wake up and get a life you 

muggle!!!!

DennisReidRector
DennisReidRector

It's is imperative that these stolen paintings be fully documented, cataloged and then returned to their rightful owners or descendants.

DarinHocking
DarinHocking

@Araba Akompi not sure where you are getting your information but, according tho Merriam-Webster, a horde is a large collection of people. Hoard is both a noun and a verb. It can refer either to the act of collecting or to that which was been collected.

Brevspread
Brevspread

@ascendedhart In an ideal world, it would be great; but now, as we become a more capitalist society, money influences our aesthetics. When was the last time you spend three-hundred dollars on an time and never used it? Some might use it so they don't feel like they "wasted" three hundred dollars. 

Norman
Norman

@DennisReidRector The question for me is how to retrieve the art that Gurlitt sold to innocent(?) buyers.