Web site to help searchers for art stolen by Nazis

Monday, September 8th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ People searching for art that was stolen by the Nazis have a new tool: a Web site that allows U.S. museum collections to be checked for long-lost pieces.

The Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal _ http://www.nepip.org _ is a searchable registry for people looking for items that disappeared in Europe between 1932 and 1946. It goes online Monday.

So far 66 museums have signed up to participate in the program overseen by the American Association of Museums. They include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Chicago Institute of Art. The Web site has indexed 5,761 of their objects and an additional 1,663 are in process.

Similar sites in Europe will be reachable through a link with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The Nazis and their allies may have stolen as many as 1.5 million objects by the end of World War II.

Estimates of the number still missing run as high as 100,000 works of museum quality. Some have found their way to the United States.

The association's president, Edward H. Able Jr., counted 17 claims settled for paintings, sculptures, textiles and pieces of armor found in American museums since 1997. Among them are a pastel by Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist painter, that had been bought by a trustee for the Art Institute of Chicago, and a painting by Henri Matisse that had been at the Seattle Art Museum.

The Nazis not only confiscated property but also forced dealers and agents to sell, at artificially low prices, art owned by Jews and the Nazis' political enemies. Confiscations and forced sales included books, religious objects, stamp and coin collections, furniture and other antiques and rarities.

Able said for that reason the Web site initiative includes more than just art museums. ``We have museums of all kinds _ an item could have seeped into a history museum, for example,'' he said.