During A War Everybody Loots A Little Bit” stated thatmore than 20% of Europe’s art was believed to have been looted by the Nazis. Just some of this art was eventually recovered at or near: Vicenza, Italy; Linz, Austria; the home of the Nazi Governor-General of Poland; the Seigen copper mine in Germany; and the salt mines of Merkers, Germany.

Of these Holocaust-era recoveries, the one at the Merkers salt mines was the most remarkable. Among the looted items the Nazis hid in the salt mines, was nearly 25% of the Berlin Museum’s art collection. Hidden in these mines with art by Raphael, Durer, Renoir and Rembrandt, were 208 suitcases and bags. They were filled with jewelry, dental gold, etc. looted from concentration camp victims. One hundred tons of gold bars had too been concealed in the salt mines.

Nazi Gold: The Merkers Mine Treasure” reveals that 400 tons of art were also interdicted there. U.S. Third Army troops recovered these looted assets at the salt mines in April 1945. This recovery is documented by Colonel Bernard Bernstein’s July 23, 1975 oral history transcript. The transcript mentions that a wall in the mines had inscribed on it, “The State is everything and the individual is nothing.” The transcript additionally discusses the April 12, 1945 tour of the mines by U.S. Generals Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley:

Generals Examining Looted Art In The Salt Mines*

Perhaps the most compelling question is: What happened to all of the Nazi-looted art that was never recovered from WWII? The 1991 Newsweek article “The Heist Of 1945” reported that the Russian Army’s “Trophy Commission” confiscated a lot of it. Suspected Nazi-looted art meanwhile, is sometimes the target of holocaust-era art restitution claims.

The claimants in these litigations typically assert an action in replevin against the present-day possessors of the alleged Nazi-looted art. The July 27th complaint filed in Csepel v. Republic of Hungary, No. 1:10-cv-01261, (D. D.C.), contains this kind of claim. Bakalar v. Vavra, Index No. 05-cv-3037 (S.D.N.Y.), as described by “In New York, A Thief Can Not Pass Good Title“, also involves a replevin claim.

Yet another Holocaust-era art restitution claim asserting replevin was Grosz v. The Museum of Modern Art,1:09−cv−03706 (S.D.N.Y.). Even though the trial court issued its January 6, 2010 order dismissing the Grosz claim, Grosz is scheduled for a December 8, 2010 oral argument on an appeal. Two court filings from the Grosz case can be viewed by clicking on the images below:

*Photo of U.S. Generals:National Archives and Records Administration

Copyright 2010 Fred L. Abrams