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Jewish Art Treasures
"Property of the Third Reich"

By: Marilyn Silverman
Senior Staff Writer
The Jewish Post of New York

The Nazi conspiracy to execute their grandiose scheme - to exterminate the totality of world Jewry, was accompanied by another sinister conspiracy - to loot art treasures belonging to French Jewish art collectors and gallery owners. The modus operandi of this clandestine operation perpetuated by the Nazis, was to appropriate thousands of paintings, sculptures, and drawings, created by such artistic giants as Rembrandt, Goya, Degas, Monet, C�zanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse. They were then methodically and meticulously cataloged and photographed prior to arriving at their new destination - Germany, where they were emblazoned with a swastika and "Property of the Third Reich" etched conspicuously on crates. The identity of their owners was erased from the face of the earth by Hitler's Final Solution but not their artworks.

Panic seized the Parisian Jewish psyche as the Nazis triumphantly and arrogantly marched through the streets of Paris - Paris, the cultural mecca of the world. Walls that were embellished with rare masterpieces, were now like bare canvases, as their frantic owners transported their priceless possessions to a safe haven, or so they thought. They never for a moment suspected that an evil consortium of moving companies, neighbors, and even their trusted house servants would ultimately betray them to the enemy.

This fascinating story of looted art, thousands of which were never returned to their rightful owners, even to this date, has been painstakingly uncovered by Hector Feliciano, in the Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art (New York: Basic Books, 1977). The pages of calendars of 50 years vanish as the voluminous and impressive facts and figures amassed in this volume by this investigative reporter over a period of seven years, present the evil conspiracy of yesteryear as if it were today. This information was unearthed by the author via recently declassified data from French Intelligence sources. Private family photos of paintings are also included.

Five illustrious families witnessed the depletion and eventual disappearance of their art treasures - the Rothschilds, the Paul Rosenbergs, the Bernheim�Jeunes, the David�Weills, and the Schlosses. The Nuremberg Was Crimes Tribunal notwithstanding, where the Nazis were indicted for this conspiracy, hunting for this looted art has not been a priority of the French government. Furthermore, these wartime documents ensconced in government archives and libraries, were difficult to access due to such frustrating roadblocks as stringent confidentiality laws and an uncooperative French administration.

A German Museum of Fine Art Looted From Jews...The wartime plundering of galleries and private collections was delegated to a government bureaucrat with a rather verbose designation - the "Fuhrer's Representative for the Supervision of the Intellectual and Ideological Instruction of the National Socialist Party of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg." What was the rationalization behind this sinister plot to loot the art treasures of those destined to annihilation? First, Hitler envisioned a grand museum to be constructed in Linz, Austria, that would house impressive collections that would arrive via such avenues as legitimate acquisitions but also via confiscation. Other masterpieces were to be sent directly to the private residences of Hitler, Goering, and other Nazi dignitaries, Nazi Party offices, or sold on the European art market. Furthermore, the Nazis, their diabolical machinations notwithstanding, wanted to possess, as opposed to destroy, French culture. Another rationalization was that as the conquered, following the treaty of Versailles, in 1919, which signaled the death knell of World War I, Germany suffered the indignity of a looting of its art treasures which it sought to repatriate. This war booty dated back to the sixteenth century including a painting hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and art from Napolean's military campaigns.

The evil mission of compiling a list of art stolen from Germany, was outlined in a report ordered by Hitler and directed to Martin Borman and Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. The resultant Kummel Report filled three volumes. Since it was determined that if a peace treaty was forthcoming official reparations would ensue, they kept this report under a cloak of secrecy. The report included a vast array of art treasures - paintings, sculptures, medieval armor, porcelain, silver, military flags, glassware, medals, and coins.

Only due to recently declassified data compiled by British and American officials after the war, from intelligence sources, can the complicity of the Germans in the French art market be exposed. French art dealers were either coerced into participating in these devious deals, or else enthusiastically engaged in these deals with their newfound, and quite affluent clients. So anxious to obtain this art, German curators, in mid-battle, descended upon the Parisian art market. An historical precedent was established whereby government appointed diplomats undertook the mission of purchasing artwork full-time, in this case, for the glory of the Third Reich.

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