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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Nazis looted priceless violins
Violin
Original owners could demand compensation
Rare musical instruments were among the loot confiscated by Nazis during World War II, recently unearthed documents reveal.

Violins including dozens of Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati - now worth hundreds of thousands of pounds each - were taken from the homes of musicians who fled or were sent to concentration camps.

The instruments, confiscated by a special team who followed German troops, were to be used in a proposed university in Hitler's home town of Linz, Austria, after the war.

The lootings have been uncovered by recently released American military documents.

The instruments could join works of art as the focus of compensation claims for stolen artefacts, the Chicago Tribune reported.

'Earliest phase'

"This is right now in the earliest phase of our work, but it may be one of the most fascinating areas of exploration," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

The Congress has been at the forefront of compensation claims for Holocaust-era lootings.

Adolf Hitler
Hitler ordered the "action team" to follow troops
Adolf Hitler ordered a music "action team" - M-Aktion - to confiscate and catalogue any instruments of importance, which were then sent to Berlin.

The team followed German troops around Europe, moving in on the homes of those who had fled the Nazis' advance or who were taken to concentration camps.

"I used to play a wonderful Italian Gagliano violin," said Francis Akos, violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who won the instrument in 1939.

But, as a Jew, he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp at the outbreak of the war.

'Disappeared'

"When I came back... I tried to find my friends," said Akos, 79.

"None of them survived the war. And their instruments disappeared somewhere, too. Everything was gone."

Experts say looted instruments could be harder to track down than works of art, which are more easy to identify and are more likely to have associated documents.

Many survivors and families of those whose art was looted or sold under the duress during the war have pressed for compensation or the return of their works, with some success.

See also:

18 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia checks for stolen Nazi art
18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Family compensated for Tate's Nazi art
21 Oct 00 | Europe
Nazi loot is won back
13 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Panel to right Nazi wrongs
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