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Looted painting returned to Poland

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Portrait of a Young Man by Polish painter Krzysztof Lubieniecki

Here’s an interesting case from the FBI’s stolen art unit:

Return of painting looted by NazisSept. 28, 2015

COLUMBUS, OH—The painting Portrait of a Young Man by Polish painter Krzysztof Lubieniecki has been returned to officials with the government of Poland.
The work of art is believed to have been looted by Nazi soldiers along with other artwork from the National Museum in Poland in October 1944. From there, the Nazis reportedly took the artwork to a palace in Austria. The Portrait of a Young Man was apparently later discovered by a U.S. serviceman while in Austria. The soldier is believed to have brought the artwork to the United States after his service abroad. 

Years after the former serviceman’s death, the painting was sold to innocent purchasers in the Columbus, Ohio area, where it remained for many years. In recent years, a relative of the former serviceman who was conducting family genealogy research came across photos of the painting. Upon further research, it was learned that the painting was taken from the National Museum and the relative made efforts to contact Poland’s Ministry of Culture. Upon learning of the historic rights of the painting, the possessors agreed to return the work to Poland.

During a brief repatriation ceremony in the FBI’s Columbus Resident Agency, the painting was turned over to officials with the Polish Ministry of Cultural and National Heritage. The Ministry’s Division for Looted Art works to gather information on cultural property lost as a result of World War II. The agency also searches for and recovers this lost cultural property when it is located in Poland and abroad.

The painting, entitled Portrait of a Young Man, was created around 1728 by Polish artist Krzysztof Lubieniecki (1659-1729). Lubieniecki was a Polish Baroque painter and engraver active in Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age.

German painting that was stolen by Nazis returned to Poland

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"Saint Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki" by German painter Johann Conrad Seekatz, pictured next to a Homeland Security frisbee. Photo courtesy Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

HSI and Manhattan US attorney return Nazi-German looted painting to Poland

NEW YORK – More than seven decades after being stolen by the Nazis, the “Saint Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki” by German painter Johann Conrad Seekatz is back in the hands of the people of Poland.

At a ceremony today at the Polish Consulate in New York, U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, returned the painting to Poland Minister of Culture and National Heritage Bogdan Zdrojewski.

Shortly before his death in 1768, Seekatz created the painting. In December 1879, the National Museum in Warsaw received the painting from the Warsaw School of Fine Arts. In 1909, the Warsaw museum had the painting erroneously identified and listed as “St. Phillip Baptizes the Ethiopian Eunuch” by Dutch painter J.C. Saft.

In September 1939, during World War II, German forces invaded and occupied Warsaw. Between 1939 and 1945, they looted in Poland numerous works of art including the painting from the National Museum in Warsaw.

In June 2008, HSI New York special agents were notified by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland that several national treasures of their cultural heritage looted during World War II were being offered for sale in the United States.

HSI New York agents met with Polish officials who provided supporting documentation to assist in the identification and recovery of the looted Polish work of art. HSI agents initiated an investigation and identified that the painting came into the possession of Doyle New York Auctioneers and Appraisers in about October 2006 and was sold under its erroneous name for approximately $24,000 to Rafael Valls Gallery in London.

An expert from the National Museum in Warsaw, delegated by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, examined the painting in London with the full cooperation of the Rafael Valls Gallery and it was determined to be the same painting that was looted from Warsaw in 1944. In April 2012, HSI received an evaluation of the painting from the Ministry that the painting was identified as its true name and artist. Polish officials confirmed it was the same painting previously attributed to the artist J.C. Saft and registered as a Polish wartime loss of the National Museum in Warsaw in on-line database that the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage runs.

Rosenberg Diary warrant

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In February, audiences will be treated to a dramatic retelling of the exploits of the Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit. The team, made up of art historian-types, was tasked with tracking down treasures looted by the Nazis in World War II.

The release of “Monuments Men” (written by George Clooney, directed by George Clooney, starring George Clooney, including George Clooney as best boy) comes shortly after the government seized the personal journals of one of the architects of the Nazis’ plunder program. We recently wrote about the fate of the Alfred Rosenburg’s diaries, which apparently had been snagged (or retained for personal purposes “in contrary to law and proper procedure,” as customs officials put it) by a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunals, which put Rosenburg to death by hanging in 1946.

The diaries had been missing until 2012 when someone started shopping them around for possible auction. The government stepped in to seize the records and give them to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The courts recently unsealed some of the records (see below) that detail the investigation that led to the seizure. Here are some of the tidbits:

— The government continues to keep secret the identity of the person who possessed the journals, redacting his/her name and place of employment.

— Rosenberg’s records were found hidden behind a false wall in a Bavarian castle in 1945.

— Investigators used scholarly references to Rosenburg’s diaries to determine that the Nuremberg prosecutor held on to the records and occassionally shared them with other researchers.

— There is a curious redaction on page 4. Any idea what they are trying to cover up here?

Other links:

Nazi plunder on Wiki

Monuments Men website

Rosenberg diary goes to museum

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These are details of a page from the Rosenberg Diary. On Nov. 7, Rosenberg Diary was photographed and scanned at the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Del., under Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervision. Photo courtesy ICE

Over the summer, we told you about Alfred Rosenberg, one of the leaders of the Nazi’s initiative to loot cultural property following World War II invasions whose own journals later became the subject of a cultural property investigation ( Diary of a madman; Rosenberg diary warrant ).

This week, the government turned the writings over to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Below is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement account:

ICE transfers lost Nazi diary to Holocaust museum
Dec. 17, 2013

WASHINGTON —U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement transferred the lost diary kept by Alfred Rosenberg, a close confidant of Adolf Hitler, to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This historical document was seized by ICE Homeland Security Investigations special agents in Wilmington, Del., following an extensive investigation.

The “Rosenberg Diary” was written by Alfred Rosenberg, a leading member of the Third Reich and of the Nazi Party during World War II. Rosenberg was privy to much of the planning for the Nazi racial state, mass murder of the Jewish people and other ethnic groups, planning and conduct of World War II and the occupation of Soviet territory.

“The museum encourages people to think about why the Holocaust happened and how it was possible in such an advanced society,” said U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “The Rosenberg diary will add to our understanding of the ideas that animated the extremist ideology of Nazism. We are grateful to our partners at ICE who helped us secure this important piece of history, a significant addition in our urgent efforts to rescue the evidence of the Holocaust.”

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.

The Myth of the Twentieth Century, a book written by Rosenberg, articulated the philosophical underpinnings of national socialist ideology. Rosenberg served as head of the Nazi party’s foreign affairs department and as the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, which included the Baltic States, Ukraine and parts of Belorussia. As Reich Minister, Rosenberg played a significant role in the mass murder of the Jewish people in the Occupied Eastern Territories, as well as the deportation of civilians to forced labor camps to support the German war effort. Rosenberg also established and headed an organization, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce), the mission of which was to loot cultural property from all over Europe.

Rosenberg was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany, from 1945 to 1946. He was found guilty on all four counts of the indictment for conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Rosenberg was hanged Oct. 16, 1946.

Allied forces advancing through Germany seized documents, books, and other records of strategic or tactical importance. After the surrender of Germany in May 1945, governmental authority for Germany was placed into Allied hands. This authority included ownership of all documents created by the defeated German government or captured by Allied forces. To prepare for war crimes trials after the cessation of hostilities, agencies of the U.S. government examined and selected relevant documents as potential evidence.

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Rosenberg diary warrant

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We have been looking to find more information on the recently recovered Rosenberg diary.

Last week, we wrote about the seizure of the journals of Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg in Delaware. The writings have been missing since shortly after Rosenberg’s war crimes trial following World War II. They were allegedly taken by a former Nuremberg and then surfaced earlier this year.

What happened after the disappearance and before the discovery is vague, as are the circumstanced behind their recovery.

We were able to find is posted below — the warrant signed a federal judge authorizing the seizure, and the return filed by a federal agent after the papers were seized. Court records indicate the case was initiated in April 2013, and the warrant was OKed on April 18. It was executed that same day. On June 11, the warrant and return were unsealed, and they remain the only records open to public inspection.

Records show two other documents were filed with the court before the warrant, and those remain sealed.

The warrant and return don’t have much to add. But there are photocopies of several hand- and typewritten pages in German that are apparently parts of the diary.

Rosenberg Diary warrant return by Skulldiggers Guild

Diary of a madman

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Think of it as the antithesis to the diary of Anne Frank.

A top Nazi, Alfred Rosenberg, the guy who coined the concept of Lebensraum and helped orchestrate the deaths of countless innocent lives, kept a journal. After Rosenburg was hanged for war crimes, one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials raided the Allies’ evidence locker and snagged Al’s writings. The prosecutor died a short time later, and now the Nazi diary has been seized by the U.S. government, according to an announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

The ICE account of what happened (posted below) glosses over much of the middle part of the diary saga. Media accounts talk of a legal battle between parties that had some claim to the journal.

Long-lost Nazi diary recovered after HSI investigation
June 13, 2013

WILMINGTON, Del. — Federal officials and representatives from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington announced the seizure of a long-lost diary kept by a close confidant of Adolph Hitler. The recovery of this historical document was the result of an extensive investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations.

The “Rosenberg Diary” was written by Alfred Rosenberg, one of the most notorious members of the Third Reich and of the Nazi Party during World War II. Rosenberg was privy to much of the planning for the Nazi racial state, mass murder of the Jewish people, planning and conduct of World War II and the occupation of Soviet territory. As such, his diary entries could provide historians with a potential wealth of previously unknown information regarding the history of this period.

The recovery of the diary was announced Thursday by ICE Director John Morton; U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III, District of Delaware; and Henry Mayer, senior advisor on archives at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Thanks to the tireless investigative work of HSI special agents, and years of perseverance by both the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the long-lost Rosenberg Diary has been recovered, not in Germany but in the United States,” said Director Morton. “This important record of the crimes of the Third Reich and the Holocaust is now preserved for all to see, study and learn from. The work of combating the international theft of cultural heritage is a key part of our work, and no matter how long these items may appear to be lost to history, that hard but important work will continue.”

“This seizure is the result of the joint efforts of this office and Homeland Security Investigations,” said U.S. Attorney Oberly. “The discovery and return of this long-lost, important historical document to the government of the United States is a significant achievement. Although it is a reminder of a dark time, the Rosenberg Diary is important to our understanding of history. Our hope is that it will provide valuable insight to historians.”

“The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is thrilled to have recovered the diary of Alfred Rosenberg, a leading Nazi ideologue,” said U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “As we build the collection of record on the Holocaust, having material that documents the actions of both perpetrators and victims is crucial to helping scholars understand how and why the Holocaust happened. The story of this diary demonstrates how much material remains to be collected and why rescuing this evidence is such an important museum priority.”

Alfred Rosenberg

The Myth of the Twentieth Century, written by Rosenberg, articulated the philosophical underpinnings of national socialist ideology. Rosenberg served as head of the Nazi party’s foreign affairs department and as the Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, which included the Baltic States, Ukraine and parts of Belorussia. As Reich Minister, Rosenberg played a significant role in the mass murder of the Jewish people in the Occupied Eastern Territories, as well as the deportation of civilians to forced labor camps to support the German war effort. Rosenberg also established and headed an organization, Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (Reichsleiter Rosenberg Taskforce), the mission of which was to loot cultural property from all over Europe.

Rosenberg was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1946. He was found guilty on all four counts of the indictment for conspiracy to commit aggressive warfare, crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Rosenberg was hanged Oct. 16, 1946.

Allied forces advancing through Germany seized documents, books, and other records of strategic or tactical importance. After the surrender of Germany in May 1945, governmental authority for Germany was placed into allied hands. This authority included ownership of all documents created by the defeated German government or captured by allied forces. To prepare for war crimes trials after the cessation of hostilities, agencies of the U.S. government examined and selected relevant documents as potential evidence.

Among the documents seized by allied forces was the Rosenberg Diary. On Aug. 10, 1945, the Records Subsection of the Documents Unit of the War Crimes Branch, U.S. Army, received from the Berlin Documents Control Center the “…private papers of Alfred Rosenberg, former Reichsminister for the Occupied Eastern Territories.” Among these papers, according to the receipt prepared Aug. 15, 1945, were “handwritten diary notes” from the years 1934 to 1944. These included notes, dated 1941, “dealing in the early part of (Apr 41) with the conspiracy to dominate Russia and preparations for this occupation (conferences with HITLER and others).”

Robert M.W. Kempner

Dr. Robert M.W. Kempner was a German lawyer who fled Germany for the United States during the war. At the conclusion of the war, Kempner served as the deputy chief counsel and was the chief prosecutor in the “Ministries Case” at the Nuremberg Trials. In this role, Kempner had access to seized Nazi documents in his official capacity as an employee of the U.S. government. At the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials, Kempner returned to the United States and lived in Lansdowne, Pa. Contrary to law and proper procedure, Kempner removed various documents, including the Rosenberg Diary, from U.S. government facilities in Nuremberg and retained them until his death in 1993.

HSI investigation

In November 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware and HSI special agents received information from an art security specialist, who was working with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, regarding the search for Rosenberg Diary. The Rosenberg Diary was subsequently located and seized pursuant to a warrant issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.