Researcher: Museum Won't Give Up Art Nazis Plundered

Sibylle Ehringhaus says Germany's Georg Schaefer Museum used her as a 'fig leaf' for 'appearances'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2020 12:25 PM CDT
Researcher: Museum Won't Give Up Art Nazis Plundered
The Georg Schafer Museum is owned by the city of Schweinfurt, Germany, above.   (Getty/Lukassek)

Heirs of Jewish collectors who say their work was stolen by the Nazis have claimed about 20 pieces of art housed in the Georg Schaefer Museum in Schweinfurt, Germany, and there had been a provenance researcher there whose job was to verify those claims. But Sibylle Ehringhaus chose not to re-up her contract in December, because, she says, "I got the impression they didn't want me there—they really made things difficult for me." Ehringhaus says the museum stymied her research and kept her from talking to colleagues at another museum, using her as a "fig leaf" strictly for "appearances." Here's where it gets somewhat complicated: The museum building itself is managed by the city of Schweinfurt, but the museum collection is on loan from the private Georg Schaefer Foundation, which says most of the art was purchased legally and in good faith in the '50s in Munich.

The foundation says restitution of Nazi-stolen art—guided by the internationally accepted (but nonbinding) Washington Principles—dictates the German government handle such matters, and that the guidelines also don't cover private entities. "The German federal government as the legal successor of the Third Reich is responsible for compensating for the crimes of the Third Reich," the foundation says in a statement, noting that if private entities have to give stolen art back to rightful owners, then those entities should get compensated by the government for it." Experts disagree. "The historical and moral responsibility to redress Nazi art plunder does not lie solely with the state," says Germany's culture minister, Monika Gruetters. "We can and should expect much more engagement by private art collectors and the art trade." Still, her rep tells the Times her hands are tied in terms of forcing the issue in this case, as "the federal government has no power to act." (More Nazis stories.)

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