War against art

Paweł Kubala
Jan 22 · 2 min read

According to Professor Jan Pruszyński, the estimated market value of works of art looted by German Nazis and Soviets in Poland in 1939–1945 is 30 billion USD. Many of them still have not returned to their rightful owners.

Fragment of the Custody of Racibórz, stolen by the soviets in 1945; probably kept in a museum in St. Petersburg

I visited the Hermitage (The State Hermitage Museum is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The second-largest art museum in the world, it was founded in 1764) in 1989. During a gala dinner, I showed the curator of the arts and crafts department photos of the Custody of Racibórz, lost in 1945. I asked if he knew this item. She was dumbfounded. “Where do you get it from? Sure I know it.” Later, she did not want to go back to this topic. It is a trace that the Custody is definitely in St. Petersburg - said prof. Wojciech Kowalski in an interview for “Gazeta Wyborcza”. So far, after 1989, Poland has managed to recover over 360 works of art, and now the Polish Ministry of Culture is seeking a refund of another 50. Most from Russia, which disregards subsequent applications. He also does not want to allow Polish researchers to the archives and museum magazines, where there may be other priceless objects looted by the Soviet army.

One of them is the painting showing a ural street in the Netherlands, by Jan Brueghel the Elder. On August 7, 2019, the Polish Ministry of Culture confirmed the presence of the painting in the collection of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

In 2013 many media around the world became interested in a collection of one and a half thousand paintings discovered in a cluttered apartment in Munich, which the German Nazis took away from Poland during WWII.

Poland must rely on the good will of the Germans and the Russians. There are cases when soldiers, at the end of their lives, or their descendants, voluntarily return works of art taken from Poland. If something is missing, or the Polish authorities have information that it is in a museum or private collection, then there is hope for their recovery. Unfortunately, also during WWII many works of art, books and other valuable monuments were completely destroyed.

Written by

Polish citizen by birth, Catholic by choice. Political scientist.

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