Long-lost looted art recovered by ‘Monuments Men’ returned to Poland
Two artworks stolen by Germans and taken home by a US soldier as 'souvenirs' have been handed back to Poland by the real life Monuments Men.
The sketches came to light when the daughter of a former US army officer found them in her late father's belongings.
The woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, contacted the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art in the United States, which established that they had been stolen from the National Museum in Warsaw at the end of World War Two.
The Monuments Men foundation was set up by Robert M. Edsel, who wrote a book of the same name about the efforts of a special group of art experts from the US to recover artwork stolen by the Third Reich throughout Europe.
The book was turned into the hit film The Monuments Men from 2014 starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman.
Edsel said: “These two objects were taken by an American soldier as a war souvenir, without necessarily realising that they had any value and someone was looking for them. When he died, we were approached by his daughter. She said that he wanted the drawings to be returned.”
The handover took place on Wednesday this week in the Polish Consulate General in New York.
The works in question were sketched by Polish artist Adolf Kozarski who died in 1911 aged 75. ‘View of a part of Zagórów from the North’ and ‘Jewish Street in Lipno’ are two of a set of 21 works by Kozarski bought by the National Museum in Warsaw in 1925.
In 2019, the Monuments Men foundation found two of them in the United States. They were in the possession of the family of a deceased US Army officer, who brought them home as a memento of his wartime experiences and military service in Europe.
The National Museum in Warsaw has preserved archival documentation attesting to the purchase and registration of these works.
“Hopefully other veterans and family members who have similar items will contact the foundation and follow suit,” Edsel said.
According to Edsel, the Kozarski sketches were stolen in the autumn of 1944 from a special deposit at the National Museum in Warsaw that included pieces stolen from Łazienki Palace and the Palace in Wilanów.
From there, they were taken to the castle in Fischhorn, Austria, of SS general Hermann Fegelein, the brother-in-law of Hitler’s wife Eva Braun.
At the end of the war, the castle was not guarded and many of the deposits were looted by the local population.
From New York, the sketches will travel to Poland and on 8 November they will be officially received by the National Museum in Warsaw.
They will later go on display alongside some of the 30 works by Kozarski in the museum’s collection, mainly landscapes and town scenes.