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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war