Works of art seized by the Nazis from Austrian Jews during the Second World War will be sold this autumn to benefit Holocaust victims, it was announced yesterday.
The move follows the announcement at the weekend that the Government is to investigate allegations that millions of pounds worth of gold plundered by the Nazis was divided up by the Allies after the war.
Christie's said that about 1,000 objects will be sold for an estimated pounds 2.3m. The money will go to both Jewish and non-Jewish victims of Hitler's gas chambers.
Pictures, carpets, tapestries, furniture, arms and armour, coins and books, have been stored for more than 40 years at a 14th century monastery at Maurbach, Austria.
They were originally part of a much larger collection which was turned over to the Austrian government by the Americans after the war with the proviso that every effort should be made to locate the owners.
Repeated attempts to trace them or the families has resulted in more than 10,000 objects being returned. But last year the Austrian parliament transferred ownership of the untraced residue to the Federation of Austrian Jewish Committees.
It has now set up an international committee to oversee distribution of the funds from the forthcoming auction. Christie's will sell the property in Vienna on October 28 and 29.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, has agreed to open an "immediate and full inquiry" into allegations that the Allies and the Swiss government struck a deal in 1946 to divide up Nazi booty, including several hundred million dollars worth of gold probably stolen from Holocaust victims and deposited in Swiss banks.
The Labour MP Greville Janner asked the Government to search for information among the archives at the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Defence Ministry after the publication of US documents showing that the Swiss government paid the Allies SFr375m (worth $90m at the time) in exchange for gold and other properties held by Germans in Switzerland.
The case is just one aspect of the long battle for justice in the case of Jews, victims of the Holocaust, and others in occupied Europe who were robbed by the Nazis. The stolen gold was said in an Allied document to be worth at least $298m (almost $2bn now). The inquiry should determine "how much money Britain has had from this loot and what has happened to it", Mr Janner said.
A spokeswoman for the Holocaust Education Trust said now there was evidence that British intelligence might have information, their most important aim was for the Government to give them help.
She said: "We don't know how this money was spent. It is slightly suspect perhaps, but we need to know more. We can't make assumptions. This whole process is about finding out the facts. We also want to know why the Government said they didn't know anything about it in the first place and why they've changed their minds now."
"The whole process is about morality. We've really only just started it in this country - that's why we went to the Government for help."
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