Robbery that followed the Holocaust

2,000 art works in French museums

French national museums hold nearly 2,000 works of art stolen from Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War, it was revealed yesterday.

On the eve of "Holocaust Day" ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the French government announced that it was setting up an inquiry into the origins of hundreds of artworks now in museums and believed to have been stolen from French Jews by the collaborationist Vichy regime.

The works, now exhibited or stored in the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, and other museums, include paintings by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and sculptures by Rodin.

The Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, announced at the weekend that he is setting up a committee of inquiry into the origins, and the legal status, of billions of francs worth of property pillaged from French Jews during the war. Much of this property, including real estate and businesses, as well as works of art, was never returned.

It was already known, or suspected, that some of the art ended up in museums owned by the French state or large cities. But the sheer size and quality of the collection, once owned by wealthy French-Jewish families, was exposed by an internal government inquiry, completed two years ago.

The results of the investigation, by the Cour des Comptes - the French audit office - was made public for the first time by the newspaper Le Monde yesterday.

The investigators are sharply critical of both the French state and individual museum curators, for making feeble attempts to identify the true owners, or their heirs, and for failing to state clearly the origins of the works. Only the Musee d'Orsay was prepared to admit that it possessed masterpieces such as Gauguins and Monets which belonged to Jewish families, deported or stripped of their property, by the pro-Nazi Vichy government. Others failed to respond to the auditors' questions or claimed the works they possessed were of minor value.

Evidence has also emerged in recent months that several French cities, including Paris, still own large numbers of apartments and other real estate stolen by the Vichy regime as part of a systematic effort to obliterate Jewish influence and culture in France.

The new committee of investigation set up by Mr Juppe follows years of pressure by the French Jewish community. Speaking to the main umbrella body for Jewish organisations at the weekend, the Prime Minister said that such an investigation was "not just a moral gesture but a national duty". For half a century after the end of the war, the part of the Vichy authorities in the identification and deportation of French Jews was an officially forbidden subject. To his great credit, President Jacques Chirac abruptly changed all that in July 1995, when he formally admitted the responsibility of the French state.

The Chirac-Juppe government has also vigorously pursued legal charges against Maurice Papon, a budget minister under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s, accused of organising the arrest of Jews while he was the Vichy police chief in Bordeaux. His trial is due to begin in May.

There were 300,000 Jews living in France in 1940. All were stripped of their property when Marshal Petain seized power with Germany's help. Over 70,000 were deported to concentration camps in Germany and Eastern Europe, mostly never to return. After the war, 61,000 works of art pillaged from Jews and other Nazi victims were gathered at Compiegne and 45,000 were successfully re-claimed. Most of the rest were sold off but 1,955 of the better works of art were given to museums.

The Cour des Comptes accuses the French authorities of that time of failing adequately to publicise the existence of this treasure trove and failing to draw up a proper inventory.

t Zurich - Switzerland's ambassador to the United States resigned yesterday after a document he wrote calling for "waging war" against Jewish groups and other vocal critics was leaked to the press, triggering uproar, Reuter reports.

The SonntagsZeitung said that the document came from a confidential strategy paper which the ambassador, Carlo Jagmetti, had sent to Berne last and month and which dealt with the dispute over dormant accounts in Swiss banks of Second World War Holocaust victims.

"This is a war that Switzerland must wage and win on the foreign and domestic front," said the document."You cannot trust most of the adversaries," it added. SonntagsZeitung said that the "adversaries" to whom Mr Jagmetti referred were Jewish groups and the US senator Alfonse D'Amato, who have accused the Swiss of profiting cynically from the war and who are seeking compensation for Holocaust victims.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition