Nazi loot claim 'compelling'
BBC, 2 October 2002
The British Museum says there is "compelling" evidence that four drawings in its collection were looted by Nazis around the time of World War II.
The artworks - thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds - are said to have been stolen between 1935 and 1945 from a collection owned by Dr Arthur Feldmann, of Brno, in the Czech Republic.
Dr Feldmann's collection of 750 drawings was seized by the Gestapo after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939.
He was imprisoned and sentenced to death, but died as a result of ill-treatment in 1941, while his wife was killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
A panel was set up by the government last year to investigate claims by former owners and their families relating to looting by the Germans.
The museum's trustees described the claim as "detailed and compelling".
"The atrocities committed during 1933-45 represent a distinct and especially brutal period of modern history," the museum trustees said, expressing their sympathy with the claims made by victims of the Nazi regime.
The Commission for Looted Art in Europe's co-chair Anne Webber said: "We are delighted the British Museum has unreservedly accepted that the claim is well-founded and that these works were looted."
"It means a huge amount to Dr Feldmann's family; that an institution like the British Museum has acknowledged what happened to them and the family collection, which is something the family is so proud of," she said.
Unnamed descendants of the family are pursuing their claim through the commission.
The drawings in question are from the 16th to 18th Centuries. They are:
• Niccolo dell'Abbate's Holy Family
• Martin Johann Schmidt's Madonna and Child
• St Dorothy with the Christ Child by a follower of Martin Schongauer
• An Allegory on Poetic Inspiration with Mercury and Apollo by Nicholas Blakey
Three of the drawings were bought on behalf of the British Museum at a sale at Sotheby's in London in 1946, with the fourth coming through a bequest.
The museum could either keep the works, give them up, or pay compensation.
Dr Carol Homden, from the British Museum, stressed there was still some way to go before the matter was fully resolved.
"The museum has made the statement that the trustees have acknowledged the claim but we have not yet gone through the process of determining the appropriate action."