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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Website traces war booty
'Lot and his Daughter'
'Lot and his Daughter' was sold to the Nazi regime in 1941
The German Government has launched a website aimed at reuniting hundreds of works of art stolen across Europe during the Nazi era with their rightful owners.

Many of the treasures listed on the site are unclaimed paintings which formed part of the vast hoard collected by the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during World War II.

Michael Franz, director of the project, said some of the works had been claimed, but added: "there are a lot of objects that still are listed as ownerless today".

The website is the latest German initiative to compensate people who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Germany's Culture Minister Michael Naumann
Germany's Culture Minister Michael Naumann presented the website

Peter Heuss, a historian at the Jewish Claims Conference office in Frankfurt , which handles many Holocaust-related restitution claims, has described the effort as "very positive and very gratifying".

He has warned however that the chances of success will probably be small as the list includes many small items such as coins and medallions.

Hitler's plans

A large part of the list consists of works looted for a huge museum which Hitler was planning to build in his home town of Linz, in Austria.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts painting
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts identified this painting by Dutch painter Elgon van der Neer as possibly looted by Nazis
They were discovered at the end of World War II, and although hundreds have been returned to their owners, more than 2,000 objects remain unclaimed and on loan to German museums.

The pieces were declared federal property in the 1960s, and some of the museums are now reluctant to give them up.

The artworks include the classic "Lot and his Daughter" by the 16th century Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto, which now hangs in a museum in Kassel, as well as lesser known Austrian and German artists such as Andreas Achenbach and Hans Makart, a favourite of Hitler's.

Spoils of war

The list also includes medieval treasures stolen by occupying allied soldiers after the war, such as a priceless 9th century manuscript of the Gospels which was only recently returned to Germany.

Russia holds over 200,000 items of "trophy art", an issue which as dogged German-Russian relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The pieces include a rare Gutenberg bible, paintings by Monet and Matisse, and priceless 5,000 year-old gold artefacts known as Priam's Treasure.

The artefacts were discovered by a German archaeologist in 1872 at a site in Turkey believed to be that of the ancient city of Troy.

Russia denied it had the treasure until 1993 - then in 1996 it put necklaces, bracelets and other objects from the collection on display at Moscow's Pushkin Museum.

The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag has quoted officials from Russia's Culture Ministry as saying that they were ready to loan Priam's Treasure to Germany for exhibition, but only on the condition that it is returned.

Many Russians see the looted art as "compensation" for the millions of Russian lives lost during the Nazi invasion.

In a separate initiative, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is displaying about 10 paintings on its website on Monday because of concerns they might have been looted by the Nazis.

The MFA and other US museums are carrying out a promise they made in June 1998 to check the histories of paintings acquired during the Holocaust and World War II.

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | Europe
Austria 'holding stolen art'
12 Mar 00 | Americas
New art scandal in New York
20 Jul 99 | Europe
Russia rules on war booty
06 Jul 99 | Middle East
Hitler paintings unearthed
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