1 December 2023

US Military Police Matt Carlson and Sy Herold look at a painting by Anthoine Van Dyke, which had belonged to Lady Nancy Astor and was recovered with other artwork from the home of Nazi leader Rudolph Reppert, Rematen (Germany), in July 1945.


It took him two years. Two years to tell the stories of six works of art stolen by the Nazis. Two years of “tracking” – that’s the name of this fascinating podcast – the itinerary of these works, from their confiscation to their restitution.

“I’ve seen gilded salons and dusty storerooms, climbed the service stairs of the Louvre and watched a Klimt be crated for transport. I doubted a lot (luckily), I learned a lot (learned so much), I cried a lot (I don’t know how to do otherwise)”wrote Léa Veinstein, particularly moved, on her Facebook account a few days before the release of her audio documentary series On the trail.

It must be said that these stories are historic and moving. That they give to understand what was at work and in a systematic way under the Nazi regime, and what it will have needed then of time and perseverance so that these stolen goods, in Paris, Bordeaux, Vienna, Munich, are beginning to find their way back to their owners or, rather, their heirs.

Because the story of their restitution, if it is happy, also carries with it that of the exiles, deportations and assassinations of their owners. The work of art becomes an object of history, a witness. And when these hitherto silent witnesses begin to “speak”, it is the voice of the disappeared that finally makes itself heard. Who better than Léa Veinstein could do it, and with all that it requires of rigor, clarity and accuracy?

Complex narratives

Therefore, when the author of The Voice of Witnesses (podcast that accompanied the exhibition she curated at the Mémorial de la Shoah in 2020) received a call from David Zivie and Elsa Vernier-Lopin (respectively head and researcher of the Mission for the Research and Restitution of Cultural Property looted between 1933 and 1945 within the General Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture), she did not hesitate. Studied the records. Asked researchers and historians who work on these issues. Interviewed museum curators. Think about how to shape these complex stories.

So that it is not only the story of the stolen works that is told here but the singular stories of six of the approximately 100,000 cultural objects concerned – of which, it should be remembered, 45,000 were returned to their owners between 1945 and 1950 and 2,200 entrusted to the custody of national museums and so-called MNR (National Museums Recovery, a status created in 1949). Over the episodes, we learn or remember the existence of the ERR (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg), a Nazi organization responsible for the confiscation of Jewish collections in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. From Rose Valland, employee at the Jeu de Paume (museum which then served as a warehouse for stolen works), who, by recording the references of the paintings, later made it possible to find them. From the creation, in 2019, of the Mission for the research and restitution of cultural property looted between 1933 and 1945, which had the good idea to order this audio series from Léa Veinstein.

Because, with subtlety, it becomes a pedagogue: a law was thus needed to restore Rosebushes under the treesby Gustav Klimt, to his heirs (episode 2) and an agreement between the Museum of Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze) and the Drey family so that the tapestry The smell, of the Royal Manufacture of Mortlak, can stay there (episode 4). Because the one who recently produced a podcast from an exceptional testimony by Simone Veil knows how to make the archives speak and make people hear. Because she knows so well how to articulate yesterday and today and bring these stories to life. For this, she was able to rely on the work of director Arnaud Forest and the talent of actors François Pérache, Caroline Mounier and Florence Loiret-Caille..

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers “Half of the cases of spoliation of Jewish property in France remain uninvestigated to this day”

Finally, and because she knows that retracing the itinerary of a painting or an archive is to restore the memory of those whom Nazi ideology wanted to annihilate, she had the sensitive intelligence to give widely to hear the very beautiful speech of Rafael Cardoso, great-grandson of Gertrud Simon and Hugo Simon, the day of the restitution of nudes in a landscapeby Max Pechstein: “Our wish (…) is that this object serves to tell the story of our ancestors and of all those whom Europe lost when it expelled the best part of its extraordinary cultural richness, in the name of the delirium of racial purity. We also want this restitution to open a healthier path for relations between cultural institutions and despoiled families. The German word for repair, Wiedergutmachung, which literally means “to make good again”, perfectly expresses the spirit of what we can achieve when we dedicate ourselves together to repair the irreparable. »

On the trail, documentary series by Léa Veinstein (6 episodes of 25 min). To be found on all the usual listening platforms.

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