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November 6, 2013

U.S. list helps heirs track Nazi-looted art in Munich cache

BERLIN — A list of art compiled by U.S. troops in 1950 may help Jewish heirs identify works looted by the Nazis that wound up in a squalid Munich apartment, researchers from the Holocaust Art Restitution Project said.

U.S. troops vetted Hildebrand Gurlitt's collection, including works by Max Beckmann and Edgar Degas, and handed it back to him 63 years ago, according to a custody receipt that Marc Masurovsky and Willi Korte, researchers at HARP, found Wednesday in the National Archive in Washington.

The artworks, listed over five pages, were held by the allies and returned in 1950. They may have formed the basis of the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, Hildebrand's son. Prosecutors said they won't publish an inventory of the 1,400 works seized in Gurlitt's Munich apartment. Groups representing the heirs of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution protested the secrecy.

"A great many people don't know what is missing from their collections," Wesley Fisher, Director of Research at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said by telephone from New York. "This secrecy is not going to help families. Many of the items that clearly seem to have come from France may have been seized or lost in forced sales."

Authorities seized Cornelius Gurlitt's cache of more than 1,400 paintings, lithographs, drawings and prints as part of an investigation on suspicion of tax evasion in a three-day operation in March 2012.

It took 1½ years to announce the hoard. Though refusing to provide a list of the works, the Augsburg prosecutor said it includes works by Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Max Liebermann.

The German government is examining ways to help Augsburg prosecutors publish details of at least the works known to have been looted, said Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief spokesman. He said government provenance researchers are helping with law enforcers' enquiries.

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