Germany today is a peaceful, democratic nation that is in many ways a model to which the rest of the world should aspire. But its authorities’ handling of the hoard of Nazi-looted art found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s flat of reveals that, beneath the surface, severe problems still remain.
The indictment has several counts. The authorities sat on the discovery for eighteen months, during which time owners of the stolen property may well have died. Even now it has been revealed, they have refused to cooperate in any way with the restitution bodies, brushing away with contempt their requests for specific information about the contents. And they have somehow let — ‘been complicit in’ might even be more accurate — Herr Gurlitt simply disappear.
Those who deal with this issue every day say none of this is surprising. While the German government makes the right noises and usually does the right thing, further down the chain attitudes are far more unreconstructed. Many simply do not agree with the idea of restitution and refuse all but the most basic legally necessary engagement.
But the revelation that, far from doing their best to restore stolen property to its rightful owners, the German authorities have – at best – frustrated those efforts may have a positive impact in alerting the world to a Nazi scandal that remains a live issue.