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How Some 1,500 Works of Looted Art Were Hidden in a German Apartment for Over a Half-Century

March 13 2018

In 2010, Cornelius Gurlitt aroused the suspicions of Swiss customs officials when he was found leaving the country with 9,000 Euros in cash. The incident attracted the attention of the German authorities, who found that Gurlitt was slowly selling off items from his art collection. Then, writes Sophie Gilbert, they searched his apartment:

Inside a small flat in a boxy white building, hidden in filing cabinets and suitcases, investigators found more than 1,500 works by artists including Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Liebermann, Chagall, Dürer, and Delacroix. The German authorities were investigating Gurlitt for tax evasion; what they found instead was an amassment of art that was immediately, incontrovertibly suspicious. . . .

The trove was seized by Bavarian officials and taken away for inspection. It was also kept quiet for more than a year, until the German magazine Focus published a . . . report about the discovery, alleging that the value of the secret masterpieces could total one billion euros. The article also noted the baggage associated with the Gurlitt name: that the items hoarded by Cornelius Gurlitt had likely been acquired by his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of the most notorious art dealers employed by the Third Reich. The fact that the Bavarian authorities seem to have sat on the find was attributed to the reality that they just didn’t know what to do with what they’d uncovered. . . . Above all, the trove was an inconvenient reminder that the issue of looted and confiscated art persists as one of the unresolved crimes of the Nazi regime. . . .

Born in 1895 to a family of artists and art historians, [the elder Gurlitt] first became director of a museum in Zwickau in 1925, where he was a cheerleader for contemporary art. In 1933, the year after Cornelius was born, Hildebrand was forced to resign as managing director of the Hamburg Art Association by the Nazis because he’d exhibited and promoted “degenerate” art. But his expertise in the field also made him invaluable to the regime as a dealer; having been cut off from his career in museums, Gurlitt saw a business opportunity. He presumably reasoned that his relationship with the Nazis protected his family, given his Jewish grandmother, while also salvaging the works he sold from destruction. Meanwhile, he profited immensely from it.

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More about: Art, History & Ideas, Holocaust

Germany’s Bid to Keep Israel off the UN Security Council

March 21 2018

The Jewish state has never held a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council. For the first 50 years of its existence, it was denied membership in any of the UN’s regional groups, which control candidacies for these rotating seats. Then it was finally admitted to the Western European and Others Group, which promptly agreed to wait another twenty years before approving Jerusalem for a Security Council candidacy. Now, Benny Avni notes, Germany is poised to block action:

As a good-faith gesture, the Western European and Others Group promised Israel that it and Belgium would run uncontested for the two open 2019-20 [Security Council] seats. Then, in 2016, Germany announced it would also run—even though it already served as a council member [multiple times, including] as recently as 2011-12. . . . [U]nless Belgium yields, Israel’s hopes for UN respect seem doomed for now—and maybe for the foreseeable future.

Why? Diplomats have been telling me Israel violates too many Security Council resolutions to be a member—as in the one passed during the last weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency, which marked Jewish holy sites as occupied Palestinian territory. But is building a porch in [the West Bank town of] Ma’ale Adumim really such a huge threat to world peace?

How about, then, a report released last week by UN experts on the Security Council’s North Korea sanctions? It found Germany violated a council ban on sparkling wines, exporting $151,840 worth of bubbly and other luxury goods to Kim Jong Un’s cronies. Or how about, as the Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal reports, German companies exporting to Iran banned materials that were later used in chemical attacks in Syria?

Never mind. Germany (and Belgium) will surely benefit from the UN’s habit of magnifying Israel’s violations beyond all proportion. Thus, Israel’s petition to join the most prestigious UN club will likely be rejected, thanks to a late entry by a shameless [and] cynical German power play against the Jewish state.

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More about: Germany, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-German relations, United Nations