Art masterpieces seized by the Nazis and thought to have been destroyed in British bombing raids on Germany during WW2 have been found behind rotting food in a loner’s modest apartment near Munich, Germany’s Focus Magazine reported Sunday.
The collection, which includes works by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Marc Chagall, among many others, has an estimated worth of $1.6 billion.
The artworks, confiscated and deemed ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis, who showed them at an exhibit in 1937, were put in the care of Hildebrandt Gurlitt, who, as a well known art dealer in Germany at the time, was tasked with selling them off for cash by Joseph Goebbels.
Gurlitt, however, seems to have kept many for his own personal collection, despite having reported the artworks destroyed during the bombing of Dresden.
Then in September 2010 customs agents carried out a routine check on a train from Switzerland. Stopping Gurlitt’s sole surviving sonCornelius – they became suspicious when they discovered he had an envelope containing 9,000 euros in cash. He was also not registered with the police – mandatory in Germany – the tax authorities or social services and was, as one official said, “a man who didn’t exist.”
Officials then issued a search warrant for his 800-euro-a-month rented flat in the Munich suburb of Schwabing. It was entered in the spring of 2011 and the paintings were discovered.
Customs initially slapped a ban on information about the raid, which is why the story is only coming to light now.
A customs spokesman said: “We went into the apartment expecting to find a few thousand undeclared euros, maybe a black bank account.
“But we were stunned with what we found. From floor to ceiling, from bedroom to bathroom, were piles and piles of old food in tins and old noodles, much of it from the 80’s.
“And behind it all these pictures worth tens, hundreds of millions of euros.”
Focus reported that investigators later found a bank savings book that showed he’d made more than a half-million euros through sales of the artwork over the years.
Gurlitt faces jail for tax evasion and money laundering, but many of the paintings could be returned to him if their rightful heirs are not found.