Press Release

Bavaria to investigate return of art to high-ranking Nazi families – Dombauverein commits to restitution of Kraus family painting

London 14 July 2016: On 27 June the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) issued a press release revealing that after the war Germany had returned Nazi-looted art to the high-ranking Nazi families who stole it rather than to the families from whom it was taken. This scandal had been covered up by Germany for several decades.

In the Bavarian Parliament yesterday, the Art Committee, Kunstausschuss, unanimously agreed that the State Government must publish a report on works of art which “with the assistance of the management of the Staatsgemäldesammlungen (State Paintings Collections) or the State Government” were handed back to high-ranking Nazis and their families.

CLAE Co-Chair, Anne Webber, said: “We welcome the swift action taken by the Bavarian Parliament and the seriousness of their response. We look forward to a speedy, transparent and comprehensive investigation of these transactions and the way they have been concealed. The investigation must include clarification of the provenance of the artworks so that the rightful owners of any works that were looted can be identified and assured of restitution or compensatory justice. The Bavarian government must also ensure that all documents from the State Paintings Collection and other relevant government bodies are published and made fully accessible.” 

CLAE’s research revealed that one painting. attributed to the Dutch Old Master Jan van der Heyden and seized from the collection of Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus of Vienna in 1941, was returned in 1962 to Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach, daughter of Hitler’s close friend and photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and wife of the Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach. Von Schirach was condemned at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity for the deportation of 60,000 Austrian Jews. 

Jan van der Heyden (Dutch 1637-1712)
View of a Dutch Square (Hollaendisches Platzbild)
Now in the possession of the Dombauverein (Catholic Cathedral Association) of Xanten, Germany

The painting, ‘Hollaendisches Platzbild, (‘View of a Dutch Square’) was returned to Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach in 1962 by the Bavarian State Paintings Collections for the paltry sum of 300 Deutsch Marks, and sold the following year, 1963, to the Dombauverein – the Catholic Cathedral Association of Xanten,  Germany - which paid 16,100 Deutsch Marks.

A restitution claim was submitted to Xanten by CLAE in July 2011 on behalf of the Kraus family, but little progress was made. Amongst the over 100 pages of documents provided to the Dombauverein were comprehensive records of the history of the painting and full proofs of inheritance and the identity of the heirs, receipt of which was confirmed by Mr Barking to CLAE in writing.

“It has been a most distressing time for the family”, said John Graykowski, great grandson of Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus. “My family were fortunate to survive physically, though the emotional, psychological and human toll persists till this day. To discover that one of our paintings was returned by Bavaria, not to my family, which at that exact same time was making unsuccessful claims to Germany, but to the very family of those who looted it, has been indescribably shocking to us all. I cannot imagine what this would do to my mother or my great-aunt if they knew. Of course, we fully expected that when the Dombauverein received details of the history of the painting, they would do the right thing straight away. After all the Bishop and Provost of the Cathedral are members of the Dombauverein.”

“Instead, in the five years since, the Dombauverein has never provided any documentation of any kind, not even to show the painting was acquired in good faith. They didn’t once in those five years acknowledge the history of the painting, nor that of my family. The lack of compassion was particularly shocking because the Cathedral is known for its anti-Nazi past and even has a memorial in its crypt with ashes from the victims of Auschwitz and Dachau.”

“Much to our surprise and dismay, Mr Barking, Chairman of the Dombauverein, told us repeatedly that the Washington Principles do not apply and there is no obligation, moral or legal, on the Cathedral Association to return the painting. In October 2012 and many times since, Mr Barking wrote that he saw the painting – our painting - as an “investment” on which they must have a return and he expected my family to reimburse the Dombauverein. In one email, Mr Barking wrote: “If the 16,000 Deutsch Marks paid for the painting was calculated as an investment over 50 years with interest of 5%, the value today would be over €55,000.”  He added that the costs of storage and maintenance must also be included and that he expected the family to pay all these costs - €55,000 plus. That is, he asked that we pay to get our looted painting back. As he says that today that the painting is only worth €4,5000, we’ve in fact been asked to pay the Dombauverein huge compensation for the restitution of our painting. It’s very hard to understand this kind of response.”

In 2013, in an effort to resolve the impasse, CLAE wrote to Mr Barking proposing that the claim be submitted for decision to the German Advisory Commission (known as the Limbach Commission) whose Secretariat is in Magdeburg. However, Mr Barking made clear that he had provided the Secretariat with the full details of the claim and CLAE’s correspondence and documentation without CLAE’s prior agreement. He had been advised by the Secretariat for some time and continued to be advised by them that the Washington Principles did not apply to the Dombauverein and that there was no obligation on the Dombauverein to return the painting.

CLAE had not been included in Mr. Barking’s various communications and discussions with the Secretariat to the Commission. Because the German Advisory Commission’s neutrality and impartiality had been compromised by the Secretariat providing advice to only one side in the claim, it became impossible to ask that the Commission adjudicate the claim. 

CLAE’s most recent settlement proposal, based on a suggestion of the Dombauverein, was made in September 2015 and included the wish of the Kraus family that the claim be resolved by the end of October 2015. Mr Barking responded that he was awaiting the opinion of the Advisory Commission Secretariat on the proposal and expected to hear back from them by the end of September. However, the family heard nothing from the Dombauverein in the nine months since.

The Chairman of the Dombauverein has now issued a statement, at last acknowledging the history of the painting and of the family, and saying they are willing to return the painting.

“We welcome the publicly stated commitment of the Dombauverein to restitute the painting”, said Anne Webber.

John Graykowski said: “It is 75 years since my family’s painting was taken, and this entire experience has been very painful. We look forward to hearing from Mr Barking within the next few days and to arranging the return of the painting to my family. In light of Mr Barking’s comments that he does not have some of the documents provided by the family, we are very willing to re-supply any that may have been mislaid.”