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German Art Prosecutor Prioritizes Identifying Nazi Thefts

Cornelius Gurlitt's Austrian Home
The Austrian home of Hamburg-born Cornelius Gurlitt, is seen at 9 Carl Storch-Strasse, Salzburg, in Austria. Photographer: Alexander Webb/Bloomberg

Identifying which of the 1,406 artworks seized last year from a Munich apartment were looted by the Nazi regime is the priority for investigators, the prosecutor handling the case said today.

Once it is established which pieces were confiscated by Nazi authorities, previous owners can claim restitution, Augsburg chief prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said in a statement. The haul includes works by Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, Pablo Picasso and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Cornelius Gurlitt, the 80-year-old from whose Munich apartment the cache was seized in a tax investigation in March 2012, doesn’t want to relinquish any of the art and is demanding its return, Spiegel magazine reported Nov. 17. Germany’s government has said as may as 590 of the artworks may have been looted from Jewish collectors by the Nazis.

“Establishing the origin of the paintings will allow us to identify without a doubt which of them are the property of the person accused, which we will then immediately offer to return to him,” Nemetz said in the statement.

Families of Jewish collectors whose artworks were confiscated or sold under duress in the Nazi era have filed claims for their looted works to the Augsburg prosecutor, who is investigating Gurlitt.

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