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FBI to return artwork stolen during Nazi occupation of France

A painting stolen from the family of art collector Adolphe Schloss during the World War II occupation of France will be returned to his descendants in New York, the French consulate said in a statement.

FBI to return artwork stolen during Nazi occupation of France
The painting was stolen during the Nazi occupation of France. Photo: AFP

The painting, Dutch artist Salomon Koninck's 1639 “A Scholar Sharpening His Quill,” was part of an important collection of Flemish and Dutch works owned by Schloss, a Jewish man who lived in Paris.

Its return on April 1, facilitated by FBI agents, will take place at the French consulate under the watch of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and representatives from the Jewish community, according to the statement.

The identities of Schloss's descendants were not immediately available.  

A collection of some 333 paintings owned by Schloss was originally stored in southern France during World War II before the Nazis found and seized it.

Some of those works, including the Koninck painting, were then sent to Hitler's headquarters in Munich.

The painting resurfaced in November 2017 when a Chilean art dealer tried to sell it through a New York auction house, the Manhattan federal prosecutor said last year upon launching a formal procedure to return it to Schloss's heirs.

The seller explained to authorities that his father had purchased the piece in 1952 from Walter Andreas Hofer, the man who was in charge of buying art for Nazi leader Hermann Goring, and a major player on the stolen goods market.

Millions of items owned by Jews and in art galleries were confiscated under the Nazi-aligned French Vichy government's anti-Semitic laws during the German occupation.

With several major auction houses located in New York, Manhattan prosecutors regularly submit requests to return goods stolen during World War II.

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WAR

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.

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