Looting

This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room

“This painting was looted by the Nazis, then seized from my living room”

by Craig Gilmore via “LA Times”

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Two agents from U.S. Homeland Security’s ICE unit arrived at my door in September looking for a Polish lady — not a person, but a painting: Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady.” She had, they informed me, been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw.

Unsure if these gentlemen were indeed who they claimed to be, I didn’t invite them in. But I knew exactly what they were seeking: My partner, David, and I had purchased this very portrait — ostensibly the work of a different artist — a decade earlier from a major auction house in New York. 

Upon their leaving, I stood dumbfounded, holding a packet of information about the alleged provenance of our painting. After calling David at work to drop this bombshell, I began a Googling frenzy, eventually bringing me to Poland’s Division for Looted Art website. Seconds later I was gawking at an old black-and-white photo of our beloved lady, a beautiful portrait painted on oak panel in 1628. Tears welled in my eyes with the realization that, without question, if this were true we needed to do our duty and get her safely home.

Being an opera singer, I was among a group of vocalists on a government-sponsored tour of Israel some years ago. During a visit to a community center for Holocaust survivors I was asked to sing. The emotion of being surrounded by people who had prevailed through such unimaginable horrors was overwhelming, and I found myself unable. Excusing myself, I attempted to make up for it by spinning several of the ladies around the dance floor — all the while trying not to look down at the numbers tattooed on their wrists. 

Now this memory flooded back to me, and I found myself once again in tears, hyper-aware of how Nazi atrocities affect us still to this day.

The toll of World War II in Poland — including the deaths of 6 million Poles, Jews, and other outcasts, including homosexuals — is unimaginable. Being gay men, David and I feel a personal connection with these losses and are conscious of how political shiftings can lead to vulnerability. This, added to the knowledge that Poland’s LGBTQ community is still in a struggle for its basic rights, has weighed heavily on our minds. 

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Men claim to find Nazi train loaded with treasure in Poland

“Men claim to find Nazi train loaded with treasure in Poland”

via “Yahoo News

Men claim to find Nazi train loaded with treasure in Poland

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — According to Polish lore, a Nazi train loaded with gold, artworks and weapons vanished into a mountain at the end of World War II, as the Germans fled the Soviet advance. Now two men claim they know the location of the mystery train and are demanding 10 percent of its value in exchange for revealing its location.

Historians say the existence of the train has never been conclusively proven, but authorities are not passing up this chance at possibly recovering treasures that locals and the government have sought for 70 years.

“We believe that a train has been found. We are taking this information seriously,” Marika Tokarska, an official in the southwestern Polish district of Walbrzych, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

She said her office received two letters this month from a law firm representing the men, a Pole and a German who have chosen to remain anonymous, saying they are seeking 10 percent of the value of the train’s contents for revealing its location. The documents from the lawyers say the train is 150-meters (490-feet) long and loaded with guns, valuables and precious metals, but do not specify where it is. Authorities say they are willing to pay the reward if the information pans out.

A lawyer for the men, Jaroslaw Chmielewski, compared the find to the “wreck of the Titanic” in an interview on a local radio station.

Tokarska said that hiring a law firm gives a degree of credibility to the two men’s claims, as do indications that they are familiar with the train’s contents. But there are also reasons for caution: The first letter included some references to the area’s topography that indicated they might not know the area very well.

Joanna Lamparska, an author who has written about the train and the region’s history, says she believes it could be a scam. . . . .

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How my family recovered a painting stolen by the Nazis and sold it for $2.9 million

“How my family recovered a painting stolen by the Nazis and sold it for $2.9 million”

by Peter J. Toren via “Yahoo! News

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On a warm, humid June evening on Regent Street in London, among the fanciest stores in the world, the international art auction house, Sotheby’s, auctioned the Max Liebermann painting Two Riders on a Beach, for many times the pre-sale estimate to an unknown buyer. The painting, a 1901 scene of two elegantly dressed men riding chestnut horses with the surf breaking behind them, belonged to my great great uncle David Friedmann, and was stolen from him by the Nazis.

I saw the painting in person with my son for the first time the day before the auction. German tax investigators found the painting in the Munich home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of the infamous art dealer to the Nazis, Hildebrand Gurlitt. Two Riders was part of a 1,200-work trove that was found in Gurlitt’s home in Munich, which included some invaluable pieces that had been stored in tomato crates. While a number of the other works were likely also stolen from Jewish owners, the German government has only returned one painting to its rightful Jewish owner other than Two Riders.

The history of the painting, and especially its recovery, represents a story of success, struggle, survival and redemption that many Jewish families have gone through in the last 100 years.

David Friedmann’s family, a wealthy and successful German-Jewish family, owned a 10,000-acre sugar beet farm, that included a distillery for making schnapps and a “castle,” near Breslau, now Wroclaw in western Poland. Friedmann was an avid collector of art, and in addition to Two Riders, also owned works by Camille Pissarro, Gustave Courbet, Jean Francois Raffaelli, and Henri Rousseau, along with a remarkably comprehensive collection of Italian, German and Dutch fine pottery.

Villa Grisebach, the German auction house, also sold from the Gurlitt trove another Liebermann, The Basket Weavers, looted from Friedmann. My father, who vividly remembers Two Riders hanging in a sunroom in Friedmann’s home in Breslau, recalls him as a kindly, though imposing man, who liked to give parties, attended by German intellectuals including the composer Richard Strauss.

My father and his brother were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust and as a child of a survivor, I grew up listening to my father tell me stories of my family’s German history and the connection to David Friedmann. My grandfather was a prominent lawyer in Breslau, and as dispensation for serving as a Colonel in the German Army in the First World War, he was able to continue to represent Jewish clients even after other German Jewish lawyers could no longer do legal work. On November 10, 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, when Jewish stores and businesses were looted, and Jews were beaten and killed, my grandfather was required to assist Friedmann in “selling” some of his property to the Nazi General Ewald von Kleist. . . . .

 

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Use Force to Stop ISIS’ Destruction of Art and History

“Use Force to Stop ISIS’ Destruction of Art and History”

by Hugh Eakin via “NY Times

Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups from destroying some of civilization’s most treasured monuments?

The question has confronted Western governments with stark urgency in the weeks since the Islamic State released a video of militants smashing ancient sculptures at the Mosul Museum. In early March, following reports that extremists attacked the ancient Assyrian sites of Nimrud and Hatra, Iraqi officials pleaded for American airstrikes to stop them. But so far the United States and its allies have wrung their hands.

Secretary of State John Kerry described the devastation as “one of the most outrageous assaults on our shared heritage that perhaps any of us have seen in a lifetime.” Irina Bokova, the director general of Unesco, said: “This is not just a cultural tragedy. It’s also a security issue, with terrorists using the destruction of heritage as a weapon of war.” The United Nations Security Council condemned the “targeted destruction of religious sites and objects” by the Islamic State and the Nusra Front.

But the United Nations says it is largely powerless to deal with the threat, and Western governments claim they have more urgent military objectives.

This is dangerously wrong. By loudly deploring this “war crime” and doing nothing, the world may be playing into the extremists’ hands. “ISIS is doing it because they can,” Amr Al-Azm, an Ohio-based Syrian anthropologist, told me. “They are striking at things the international community holds dear, but is impotent to do anything about.”

Since 2011, five of the six Unesco World Heritage sites in Syria have suffered significant damage; four have been requisitioned for military purposes by different groups, in direct violation of international protocols. Tunnel bombs have devastated Aleppo’s old city; thousand-year-old minarets have been detonated; medieval forts have been shelled; Parthian and Hellenistic sites have been pillaged.

Then came the Islamic State, which turned such attacks into an explicit strategy. Taking over archaeological sites near its stronghold, the northern city of Raqqa, the group turned local looting brigades into large-scale businesses. And it has used social media to broadcast the carefully choreographed destruction of mosques, cemeteries, libraries and other monuments belonging to any groups or sects it regards as deviant.

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Looting at Apamea recorded via Google Earth

“Looting at Apamea recorded via Google Earth”

via “Trafficking Culture”

The two images below show the same archaeological site, the ancient city of Apamea, in Syria, firstly as captured by Google Earth on 20th July 2011, and then on 4th April 2012. The scale of looting in between the months when the images were taken can be seen clearly.

These images are reproduced here with kind permission from Dr Ignacio Arce, Director of the Spanish Archaeological Mission to Jordan, who originally took the images from Google Earth.