Over 2,000 people worked closely with the Germans in their hunt for Jewish-owned art collections, according to a U.S secret report produced on Nazi pillages during World War Two.
The report was compiled by the U.S Art Looting Investigation Unit, which investigated the pillaging of works of art by the Nazis throughout Europe between 1939 and 1945.
The unit belonged to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which was replaced by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) after the war.
It was composed of art experts and historians who were invested with all military powers to conduct their investigations.
The report listed some 2,000 names of people from Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg who participated actively in the plundering and trafficking of works of art stolen by the Nazis.
The list notably contained a majority of Germans, French, Dutch and Swiss people who had had close links with the Nazis.
The report was only “declassified” in January 1998 and handed over to the World Jewish Congress, according to the French daily “Le Monde” which published its summary.
It remained however unclear why this report was stamped as secret and shelved during over fifty years while most of the people involved in the looting and the trafficking of works of art seized by the Nazis escaped the grip of justice in their respective home countries.
Most of them therefore did not account for their misconduct and remained the prosperous actors of the art market during many years.
The report referred in particular to the Schenker transport Company which was in charge of conveying works of art seized by the Nazis between France and Germany. The much documented Schenker archives enabled the investigation unit to have a clear view of the extent of such trafficking.
The main Nazi network operating in France, where so many Jewish-owned art collections were pillaged, was the Einsatztab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) run from Paris by Bruno Lohse. Its task was to track down Jewish-owned collections throughout France and also in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The ERR regrouped all works seized in France in the Jeu de Paume Museum. There the Nazis selected the best pieces to be sent to Germany or to Austria where Adolf Hitler had decided to create the Great Reich Museum in Linz.
The ERR also sent stolen art works to Reich Marshall Herman Goering and to other Nazi dignitaries who were coveting art treasures. It also bartered “degenerate” paintings and art pieces against old masters paintings with collaborationist dealers.
In the list appeared the name of Georges Wildenstein, a Paris Jewish dealer who fled to the U.S and reputedly run his business from New York with the help of his right-hand man named Roger Dequoy who remained in close touch with the Nazis throughout the war.
In fact the art market in Paris was much buoyant and many dealers there such as Fabiani and Petrides, notably the specialist for Maurice Utrillo's works, became quite prosperous during the Nazi occupation thanks to their dealings with the ERR.
Meanwhile loads of less interesting art works were sold by the Nazis through auction rooms in France and also in Switzerland. Many dealers also took advantage of collectors who were forced to sell their treasures at cheap prices while fleeing from the Nazis.
The main Nazi dealer operating in France and in Europe was Karl Haberstock who bought hundreds of stolen art pieces.
Jewish-owned art galleries were seized and given to “Aryan” owners who were mostly their former employees. In addition, many strange people, traffickers, adventurers, gangsters and Nazi collaborationists were also active in dealing or tracking down Jewish-owned collections.