The Monuments Men are famous for rescuing art looted from Jewish families during World War II—but it turns out that many pieces never made it back to their original owners.
That’s because when the famed group turned over the artwork to the Bavarian state after the war, the state sold some of it back to Nazi families on the cheap, according to new research, per the Art Newspaper.
Anne Webber of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe says Bavaria’s State Paintings Collections was given 10,600 items in 1949 that were to be returned to Jewish families but were instead offered to Germans, including prominent Nazis.
Webber says she uncovered the scheme after tracing a painting stolen from a Jewish family during the war that ended up in the hands of Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann.
The Monuments Men seized it back and turned it over to the Bavarian state—which sold it back to Hoffmann’s daughter at a low price. “It seems that Bavaria thought restitution meant restitution to the Nazis rather than to their victims,” the CLAE says, per the Times of Israel.
Webber accuses German authorities of stonewalling the requests of Jewish families for restitution even as it lowered the bar on German requests. “It is particularly striking that the Hoffmann family was getting virtually everything back that it claimed with minimal proof of ownership and this went on for almost two decades.” The investigation, done jointly with the Munich paper Süddeutsche Zeitung, also accuses state museums of keeping artwork in their own collections and tying to disguise the origins.
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