12 March 2016

Recap of the Gurlitt case

by Marc Masurovsky

Two and a half years have elapsed since the Gurlitt case burst onto the international scene. Here is a recap as seen through the tinted glasses of plunderedart.

November 8, 2013

HARP petitioned the German government to release the complete inventory of all of the works of art found in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt.

January 19, 2014

The Gurlitt Task Force members are highlighted and the questions raised about its efficacy in the face of opacity from the German government to request for information about the contents of the Gurlitt collection. Emphasis is placed on the dealings of his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, as a privileged dealer and buyer for the Nazi government in the Reich and in occupied territories.

January 20, 2015

With Cornelius Gurlitt dead, progress on understanding the contents of the Cornelius Gurlitt collection eludes everyone. To add more spice to the already entangled saga of Cornelius Gurlitt, the world finds out that shortly before his death, he bequeathed his collection to the Kunstmuseum in Bern.

January 29, 2015

Monika Gruetters, Germany’s new Minister of Culture, has sought to appease domestic and international critics about the apparent inability of the Gurlitt Task Force to make any significant progress in identifying looted art amongst the more than 1400 objects seized in Munich and Salzburg. She has pledged more funding for provenance research, announced a reorganization of agencies in Germany responsible for provenance research and documenting Nazi thefts of art objectsinto a new Center for Lost Art.

April 23, 2015

The apparent consistent stonewalling by the German government to seek a speedy resolution to the Gurlitt mess made us wonderwhether there was any genuine desire to invest the necessary resources to make of the Gurlitt case an example of how to address ethically and scientifically the complex nature of ideologically motivated thefts of property owned by the victims of Nazism.

August 23, 2015

Ori Soltes, president of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, reviewed one of the first English-language narratives to appear on the puzzle surrounding the unraveling of the Gurlitt case. This narrative, Hitler’s Art Thief, was penned by Susan Ronald.

January 25, 2016

With the merciful end brought to the less than satisfactory work of the Gurlitt task Force, a quick overview of the Task Force’s findings added even more confusion and perplexity to an already-opaque two year long research effort that resembled more an exercise conducted in the basement of the National Security Agency than a historical research effort aimed at shedding light on the activities of a very prolific Nazi-sponsored agent trained as an art historian and museum official, Hildebrand Gurlitt.

March 11, 2016

With the announced doubling of the research budget for the newly-formed Center for Lost Art, German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters sought to appease, once again, her critics, domestic and foreign, regarding the botched outcome of the now-defunct Gurlitt Task Force. She made a critical misstep by intimating that placing Jews on a German task force called theLimbach Commission would inject bias in its proceedings.

From the publicized discovery of the Cornelius Gurlitt art collection to the shuttering of the Gurlitt Task Force,  the German government has displayed a complicated dual face to its commitment to "deal with the past", its Nazi past, and to effect some measure of justice so that German society can move forward and address the complex crimes associated with thefts and misappropriations of property, especially cultural property. On the one hand, Germany has done a marvelous job addressing the horrors that its citizens perpetrated against Jews and other groups who were full-fledged members of German civil society until they were excluded from it.  German youth are some of the most advanced in the world, outpacing American and Israeli Jewish students, in their mastery and understanding of the events that shook their country and the conscience of the world between 1933 and 1945.  On the other hand, the German government has been unable and/or unwilling to put in place an efficient mechanism by which to identify, investigate, and process humanely, ethically, and legally, instances where looted cultural assets are found in German collections, private and/or public.  The Gurlitt Task Force is the perfect example of this systemic dysfunction and reminds us that it's easier to 'deal with the Holocaust' than with its details, exemplified by looted artistic objects once owned by Jews and which are currently displayed and traded on German territory amongst German citizens, businesses and institutions.

Much work still needs to be done.