Thekla Stein Nordwind of Scottsdale, Ariz., has been looking forward to the establishment this week of a Web site where American museums are posting their collection of paintings, sculptures and other works of art that might have been looted by the Nazis.
"It’s similar to one they have in Germany," Nordwind said. "Now you can look for confiscated art on this one central Web site rather than having to go to each museumís Web site separately."
Nordwind has been searching worldwide for paintings, drawings and sculptures that her aunt and uncle, Clara and Gustav Kirstein, had owned in Leipzig, Germany. She said her uncle died in 1934 after the Nazis confiscated his publishing company. Her aunt then arranged to ship some of their art to the United States, but it never arrived.
The rest of the collection was given to a local auction house to sell, but the firm said the Nazis confiscated the proceeds. Clara Kirstein, unable to raise the exit tax demanded by the Nazis, then committed suicide, Nordwind said.
But Nordwind said that with the help of the Commission for Art Recovery of the World Jewish Congress, she was able to retrieve a statue from a Leipzig museum that the owner of the auction house donated in 1944. Now she plans to scour the central U.S. Web site, which was established by the American Association of Museums.
Edward Able Jr., the association’s president and CEO, said American museums are being asked to post their collections on the Web site (www.nepip.org) if they have objects that could have come from continental Europe between 1932 and 1945.
"Locating objects is a big hurdle in resolving claims," said Monica Dugot, deputy director of the Holocaust Claims Processing Office of the New York State Banking Department, "and the Web site is an extremely useful and much-needed tool."
Sixty-six museums of an estimated 150 that are believed to have qualifying artwork have agreed to post it on the Web site. Some 6,000 objects have been posted.
Constance Lowenthal, former director of the Commission for Art Recovery, said she understands that the museums have provided another 1,600 items that the association’s staff is still inputting on the site.
She said her concern is that only museums on the East and West coasts and a few in the center of the country have agreed to post their collections. Lowenthal, now a consultant to the commission, said she hopes the site will encourage all museums to begin cataloguing their collections and then posting them.
"You cannot get a museum to give you information if they have not done the research," she said. "Museums do publish a catalog of their collections, but they are often not up to date and they are not an economic priority. They would rather prepare catalogs for a blockbuster exhibition."
Nordwind said she would like to see one Web site covering all museums worldwide.
Able knows of no plans for such a venture but noted there are links on his site to others with search engines for museums in other parts of the world.