Monday, November 4, 2013

The Art

This is one of those Paul Harvey-type stories.

So this older gentleman was traveling on a train from Switzerland into Germany, and for some reason....something stuck out.  His clothing....his shoes....his briefcase....whatever.

So the German customs folks pulled him and did an intensive search.  In Germany, you can do things like this with no judge's permission.

What they find is a substantial amount of cash....way over what you'd say was acceptable to carry.  The authorities won't say the precise amount....I'd take a pretty good guess at something between 50,000 and 150,000 Euro ($60,000 to $200,000).

He's an older guy....but this explanation of the cash doesn't ring true.....and he's coming in from Switzerland.

So an investigation starts.  Days pass, and the cops show up in his Munich apartment. He could have cleaned out the mess....but he's an older guy with no real enthusiasm left in him.

So the cops walk in and what they roughly 1,500 paintings.  It's a big huge apartment but it's like to be in the 150 to 200 square meter range.  The place is mostly ratted out.....garbage and newspapers.  He hadn't obviously cleaned it in months or years.

The paintings?  Well, that's the funny thing.  It's the kind of stuff that guys dream of. Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall.  Then there's noted German painters from before WW II....Nolde, Marc, Beckmann and Liebermann.

The story unfolds.  Before WW II....the Nazis were pouring over the Jewish elite in Germany, and taking their art.  The Nazi leadership reached some point where they decided a significant amount of the art was unfit least by their they hired a German to sell the stuff on the market.  This guy started the act, but kinda rolled this along slowly.  The war came to an end.....with him claiming to the authorities that much of the art was destroyed in bombing raids.

This guy quietly disappears and the art stays with him.  He passes away, and his son takes up the collection.

The son grew up in the 1950s and 1960s.  He's in his 80's presently. Whatever charges they want to dream up....this guy doesn't care.  He's lived a good long and decent life.  He took a painting or two each year and sold them on the market outside of Germany.  No one ever asked questions, and he simply took the cash payment and went back to his apartment.

The value?  No one can clearly say for sure.  You see....they are still in the identification stage and trying to find the owners.   Most of the owners are dead.  Then you look for relatives of them.  On and on.

The authorities won't dare say it in public....but this 1,500 piece collection could take ten years to clear up and finalize on the ownership side.  The value is kinda tossed around and they've given it a billion-dollar number.....mostly because it's so unusual and no one can be sure what any of this will bring on the market.

This brings one to this odd observation.  No one says this of course.  All this art....seems to be believed by the be owned officially by Jewish families and stolen from them. might well be that ten percent or twenty percent.....were stolen property items that Jewish families came across in the early 1900s, and simply added to collections.

You might find a fair number of these were actually sold by Jewish families when they knew time was running out and they needed cash in a hurry.

For me....there's this curious alternate ending.  If the customs police hadn't suspected the guy....he would have continued on, and likely died in five to ten years.  There are no relatives.  So someone would have walked into this apartment, and felt a bit of shock over a bunch of art.  They might have even backed up a truck to the building, and hauled the stuff off to some dump.....thinking it was all garbage he'd picked up at flea markets.

A strange story, if you ask me.

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