Germany releases names of first 25 looted artworks

The names of the first 25 works of art suspected of being looted by the Nazis from Jewish collectors and found in Munich were published by German authorities on Monday night.

Germany releases names of first 25 looted artworks
Otto Dix's Dame in der Loge (l) and Carl Spitzweg's Das Klavierspiel were among the 25 works whose names were released. Photo: DPA

Under mounting pressure, authorities released the names of 25 of the 1,400 artworks found in a Munich flat belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt , the son of a Nazi art dealer.

They put the list on website – a government funded site based in Magdeburg – which soon crashed after the announcement. More names are expected to follow.

The 25 paintings include work by Marc Chagall, Eugène Delacroix, Carl Spitzweg, Otto Dix, Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.

A taskforce has also been formed to research the works and trace their ownership. It is being led by Ingeborg Berggreen-Merkel, a former Bavarian minister and lawyer.


Authorities said 970 of the 1,400 need to be checked by experts.   

The Nazis seized hundreds of thousands of works from Jewish collectors. Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who bought and sold art for the Nazis. It is believed his son inherited the collection, which he kept in the flat for decades.

The 25 artworks are:

 -Antonio Canaletto, “S.A Giustina in Prà della Vale” in Padua, graphic print, 1751/1800

-Marc Chagall, “Allegory/Allegorical Scene,” undated painting

-Hans Christoph, “Paar (Couple),” 1924

-Honoré Daumier, “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza,” c. 1865

-Eugène Delacroix, “Moorish Conversation on a Terrace,” undated

-Otto Dix, “Woman in the Theatre Box,” 1922 and “Dompteuse,” 1922

-Conrad Felixmüller, “Couple in a Landscape,” 1924

-Erich Fraass, “Mother and Child,” 1922

-Bonaventura Genelli, “Male Nude,” undated

-Ludwig Godenschweg, “Male Portrait,” undated and “Female nude,” undated

-Otto Griebel, “Child at Table,” undated and “Veiled Woman,” 1926

-Bernhard Kretschmar, "Straßenbahn" (Tram), undated

-Wilhelm Lachnit, "Mädchen am Tisch (Girl at table), 1923 and "Mann und Frau am Fenster" (Man and woman at window), 1923

-Max Liebermann, "Reiter am Strand" (Rider on the beach), 1901

-Fritz Maskos, "Sinnende Frau" (Pensive Woman), 1922

-Henri Matisse, "Sitzende Frau / In einem Sessel sitzende Frau" (Sitting woman /Woman sitting in an armchair), 1924

-Auguste Rodin, "Etude de femme nue debout, les bras relevés, les mains croisées au-dessus de la tête", (Study of nude woman standing with her arms raised and hands crossed above her head), undated

-Théodore Rousseau, "Vue de la vallée de la Seine" (View of the valley of the Seine), undated

-Carl Spitzweg, "Das Klavierspiel" (Playing piano) ca 1840

-Christoph Voll, "Mönch" (Monk), 1921 and "Sprengmeister Hantsch" (The master exploder Hantsch), 1922

READ MORE: Masterpieces emerge from Nazi art trove

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German justice contaminated by Nazis in post-war years

Germany's justice system was still filled with former Nazis well into the 1970s, as the Cold War coloured efforts to root out fascists, according a damning official inquiry presented Thursday.

Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report
Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report "State Security in the Cold War". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

In the 600-page collection of findings entitled “State Security in the Cold War”, historian Friedrich Kiessling and legal scholar Christoph Safferling focused on the period from the early 1950s until 1974.

Their research found that between 1953 and 1959, around three in four top officials at the federal prosecutor’s office, which commissioned the report, had belonged to the Nazi party.

More than 80 percent had worked in Adolf Hitler’s justice apparatus, and it would take until 1972 before they were no longer in the majority.

“On the face of it they were highly competent lawyers… but that came against the backdrop of the death sentences and race laws in which they were involved,” said Margaretha Sudhof, state secretary at the justice ministry, unveiling the report.

“These are disturbing contradictions to which our country has long remained blind.”

‘Combat mission’

It was not until 1992, two years after Germany’s national reunification, that the last prosecutor with a fascist background left the office.

“There was no break, let alone a conscious break, with the Nazi past” at the federal prosecutor’s office, the authors concluded, stressing “the great and long continuity” of the functions held and “the high number” of officials involved in Hitler’s regime.

Chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank commissioned the study in 2017. The federal prosecutor’s office is one of Germany’s most powerful institutions, handling the most serious national security cases including those involving terrorism and espionage.

With more than 100 prosecutors, it is “the central actor in the fight against terror,” the report authors said, underlining its growing role in the decades since the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States.

The researchers were given unfettered access to hundreds of files labelled classified after the war, and found that rooting out alleged communists was often prioritised over other threats, including from the far right.

“In the 1950s the federal prosecutor’s office had a combat mission – not a legal but a political one: to pursue all the communists in the country,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said in a summary of the report.

‘Recycling’ Nazis

The fact that West Germany widely used former officials from the Nazi regime in its post-war administration had long been known.

For example, Hans Globke served as chief of staff and a trusted confidant to former conservative West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer between 1953 and 1963 and was responsible for recruitment to top posts.

However, Globke had also been a senior civil servant in the Nazi-era interior ministry and was involved in the drafting of the 1935 Nuremberg race laws that imposed the first dramatic restrictions on Jews.

In recent years, systematic digging into the past of key ministries and institutions has unearthed a troubling and previously hidden degree of “recycling” of Third Reich officials in the post-war decades.

A 2016 government report revealed that in 1957, more than a decade after the war ended, around 77 percent of senior officials at the justice ministry had been members of the Nazi party. That study, also carried out by Safferling, revealed that the number of former Nazis at the ministry did not decline after the fall of the regime but actually grew in the 1950s.

Part of the justification was cynical pragmatism: the new republic needed experienced civil servants to establish the West German justice system. Furthermore, the priorities of the Allies who won the war and “liberated” the country from the Nazis were quickly turned upside down in the Cold War context.

After seeking to de-Nazify West Germany after 1945, the aim quickly shifted to building a capitalist bulwark against the communist threat. That approach often meant turning a blind eye to Germans’ previous involvement in the Third Reich.

In recent years, Germany has embarked on a twilight attempt to provide justice for concentration camp victims, placing several former guards in their 90s on trial for wartime crimes.