$1.3 Billion in Nazi-Looted Art Found in Munich
The Holocaust, an intensely organized, systematic genocide, resulted in the brutal massacre of millions during World War II -- and remains a horrific, dark time in world history. There is still enormous public outcry for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals -- at least for those who are still alive. We've tracked down the last remaining Nazi war criminals, some on trial, some just suspects.
AP Photo/Christof Stache
John Demjanjuk, an 89-year-old retired Ohio autoworker, is the lowest-ranking person to go on trial for World War II Nazi war crimes to date. He is charged with being an accessory to the murders of 27,900 people while serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Throughout the 32-year-long legal battle, Demjanjuk has claimed he was a captured Soviet soldier and held as a Nazi prisoner of war. German prosecutors argue he volunteered to serve in the German SS and was stationed at Sobibor.
Polish-born Jakiw Palij, who migrated to New York City after World War II, was stripped of his American citizenship in July 2009. Federal prosecutors in the United States are accusing him of serving at the Trawniki death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943, when some 6,000 Jews were killed. He is also charged with serving at nearby secret service training camps. The 80-year-old claims he never went into any concentration camps, nor took part in any killings, but says he was forced to serve as a guard on a troop base under penalty of death.
U.S. Department of Justice
Now well into his 80s, Helmut Oberlander has fought to keep his Canadian citizenship since 1995. Captured Nazi documents showed that Oberlander served in a German SS mobile killing unit. His unit was responsible for murdering tens of thousands of Jewish and other civilians in Nazi-occupied Ukraine and former Soviet territories. Oberlander maintains he served only as a translator, never participated in any killings and was threatened with death if he attempted to leave.
AP Photo/U.S. Army
Former SS sergeant Adolf Storms lived in Germany unnoticed for almost 60 years before an Austrian university student found his name while researching a Holocaust-related massacre. The 90-year-old retiree is now charged with 58 counts of murder for the killings near the Austrian village of Deutsch Schuetzen. Storms is also accused of shooting a Jew who could no longer walk during a forced march in Austria from Deutsch Schuetzen to the village of Hartberg -- a distance of over 35 miles. German courts are still deciding whether there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
Australian officials approved the extradition of 88-year-old Charles Zentai to Hungary in November 2009 after he was accused of beating a Jewish teenager to death during World War II. Zentai is accused of murdering 18-year-old Peter Balazs in Budapest while serving in the Hungarian army, then allied with Nazi Germany. Zentai's son claims his father wasn't in Hungary at the time of the murder, and his family plans to fight the charges.
Charged with murdering three Dutch civilians in 1944, 88-year-old Heinrich Boere is currently standing trial in Aachen, Germany as a Nazi war criminal. At the end of World War II, the SS officer fled the Netherlands and lived in Germany, where he dodged several convictions. In 1949, a court in Amsterdam convicted and sentenced him to death (it was later commuted to life in prison). An attempt to extradite Boere to the Netherlands failed in 1983, when it was thought he could have German citizenship (Germany didn't extradite its citizens at the time). In 2007, another German court ruled that Boere shouldn't have to serve his Dutch sentence in a German jail. Finally, the Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes picked up the case in 2009 and succeeded in pushing it to trial.
AP Photo/Journal Times, Mark Hertzberg
After admitting he took part in two massacres as a Nazi concentration camp guard, 83-year-old Josias Kumpf was deported to Austria from his home in Wisconsin in March 2009. Kumpf admitted that he participated in Aktion Erntefest -- Operation Harvest Festival -- where 42,000 Jews were killed at three Nazi camps in eastern Poland in two days. He also admitted to being an assassin during the mass shootings at the Trawniki Labor Camp, where some 8,000 people were killed in pits. He died earlier this year, according to one report.
The discovery in a rubbish-strewn flat in Germany of nearly 1,500 paintings including works by Picasso and Matisse looted by the Nazis sparked urgent calls Monday to hunt for their rightful owners.
The shocking find, valued at an estimated one billion euros ($1.3 billion), was reported Sunday by news weekly Focus. Authorities repeatedly declined to comment on the trove apparently uncovered in 2011.
But German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Berlin had been aware of the case for "several months" and was assisting an investigation by public prosecutors with experts in Nazi-era stolen art.
Hundreds of the modernist masterpieces are believed to have been stolen by the Nazis from Jewish collectors.
"I think it's the biggest single find of Holocaust pictures that there's been for years, but it's still a tiny fraction of the total number of pictures that we're looking for," Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register, told AFP.
"They were the sort of pictures that the Nazis would have looted, either to sell for hard currency, or in certain cases because they wanted them for their own museums, particularly if they were Old Masters."
Investigators came upon the paintings during a 2011 search of an apartment belonging to the now 80-year-old son of art collector Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had bought them during the 1930s and 1940s, according to Focus.
The search was carried out because the son, Cornelius Gurlitt, was caught by customs authorities on a train from Switzerland to Munich with a large amount of cash.
The collection included many of the masters of the 20th century, among them Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and the German painters Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Max Beckmann and Max Liebermann.
The artworks lay hidden amid old jam jars and junk in darkened rooms in Gurlitt's apartment in the southern city for more than half a century, the magazine said.
Gurlitt, a recluse without a job, had sold a few over the years, living off the proceeds.
His father, despite having a Jewish grandmother, had become indispensable to officials in the Third Reich because of his art expertise and vast network of contacts.
Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels put Gurlitt in charge of selling the art, much of which the Nazi party deemed "degenerate," to foreign buyers abroad.
However Gurlitt apparently secretly sold some of the works to Germans and hoarded the rest, having claimed after the war that the masterpieces were destroyed during a wartime bombing raid on his Dresden flat.
The works are now stored safely in a customs warehouse outside Munich, Focus said.
A painting of Marc Chagall's parents is among the looted finds.Wikimedia Commons
'Tip of the iceberg'
The remarkable discovery touched off calls for an exhaustive search for the provenance of the paintings, at least 200 of which were officially reported missing and thought lost forever.
Anne Webber, founder and co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, called the case "the tip of the iceberg".
"People have been looking for their looted art for 75 years now so if there are 1,500 paintings here it stands to reason that these are a lot of looted paintings that belong to families which should be returned to them," Webber told BBC television.
"There was a network of them -- particularly in Bavaria where this was found -- and they laundered the looted art and they also helped Nazis, who had art but didn't know how to dispose of it, to launder it."
She said the fact that German authorities apparently made the discovery two and half years ago and had still not published a list of the works or located a single rightful owner raised troubling questions.
"There's a culture of secrecy," she said.
Among the paintings discovered was a Matisse that had belonged to the Jewish collector Paul Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, who fled Paris leaving his collection behind, was the grandfather of Anne Sinclair, the former wife of the disgraced French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
The Nazis plundered artworks in Germany and across Europe before and during World War II.
Thousands of stolen artworks have since been returned to their owners or their descendants, but many more have never resurfaced.
Webber said restitution efforts were of paramount importance.
"The value to the families is not to do with the financial value of them," she said.
"These were works that were taken from families whose lives were utterly destroyed or transformed by the Nazis, and so for them the return of this art is both justice and a form of reconnection to that life that was taken away from them."