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French war booty surfaces in East Berlin

The Musées de France knew about it for nearly twenty years

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Twenty-eight paintings, drawings and pastels including works by Monet, Gauguin, Seurat, Cézanne, Delacroix, Corot and Courbet have emerged in East Berlin. A dramatically presented article in L’Express of 20 December last tells that the curator of nineteenth-century painting in the Nationalgalerie, Lothar Brauner, had looked after them since 1972 in a cupboard in his office. They had been consigned to him by the Bishop of Magdeburg, Heinrich Sollbach, to whom they had been given shortly before by an unnamed man. He, in turn, had been handed them at the end of the Occupation of France by an officer of the Wehrmacht, with instructions to take them back to Germany and await the officer’s return. He never did reappear.

Brauner was told by the authorities to keep the existence of these paintings absolutely secret, but in 1974, a year after France opened diplomatic relations with the GDR, the French Foreign Office was sent a list of the paintings by the government body responsible for the legal protection of the patrimony of East Gemany. The Quai d’Orsay submitted the list to the Directorate of the Musées de France, which, having established that none of the pictures came from their collections, showed no further interest in the matter. L’Express points out that with a little research their journalists had managed to find out easily who the owners had been of six of the pictures, which disappeared between 1942 and 1944, and that the Musées de France should have displayed more interest in the losses of French citizens. Furthermore, as the journal points out in the following issue, the Musées de France did not even act in their own interest, for if the owners of the pictures were indeed untraceable after a duly diligent search had been made, the pictures would revert by law to the state, like the 700 untraceable items found in Germany after the Liberation. Presumably the twenty-eight pictures will now be returning to France. Who will undertake the research to find their owners?

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