Much has been said and written about the present day treatment of Nazi-looted art. But there is another, less well-known chapter to Germany’s past.
This involves the confiscation of works of art from East German citizens by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Often the confiscations occurred because the owners of the works were considered members of a ‘decadent bourgeoisie‘ – but even more so the works were taken to raise much needed funds for the East German state. Many of the works were then sold abroad through the Kunst & Antiquitäten company.
This issue has only recently been reported on in the English language version of Der Spiegel. One wonders at the extent of such a scheme involving seizures of works in East Germany and their eventual resale in the West. Could it be that the world needs to be made more aware of this well-orchestrated system of state looting? Perhaps GDR-seized works will henceforth require the same sensitivity in their treatment as works looted by the Nazis.
All that can be said is that some steps have apparently been taken. Twenty-three works have been returned from the city of Erfurt to the heir of Heinz Dietel, who had his collection of antique furniture, porcelain, silver and coins unjustly confiscated by the state in 1972. Could other German museums – or indeed museums abroad – be holding any other skeletons in their closets? Only time will tell.