June 2, 2015

Arthur Brand’s Art Investigation Uncovers Nazi Art Hoard — A treasure of propaganda

Two bronze horses recovered in Germany
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
  ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Dutch Art Investigator Arthur Brand’s work over the past 1 1/2 years to recover, amongst others, two bronze statues commissioned by Adolph Hitler and once thought destroyed is well-documented in the English media in an interview by NPR (“An Epic Art Tale: Commissioned By Hitler, Recovered by German Police”, May 30, 2015); in Spiegel Online (“The Quest for Hitler’s Lost Treasures” by Konstantin von Hammerstein, May 26, 2015); and in The Wall Street Journal (“A Dark Niche Emerges in German Market: Nazi Art”, by Harriet Torry and Andrea Thomas, May 26, 2015).

On Monday, June 1, I spoke with Arthur Brand via Skype and asked him if the information in the Spiegel Online article was accurate. Brand confirmed that he had worked with the journalist, Konstantin von Hammerstein, who not only has an excellent reputation, Brand said, but worked with him throughout the investigation.

“It’s good to be backed by a journalist,” Brand said. “What if the police don’t believe you? Konstantin did a lot of research. I really owe him. We did it together, and at some point we joined with Renee Allonge of the Berlin police. We worked secretively and well together.”

I asked him why a former art dealer with no money had been approached in 2013 about the sale of the two bronze horses sculpted by Josef Thorak as propaganda for Nazi ideals.

“The market for Nazi memorabilia for high-end stuff is very small, secretive, and you must have money,” Brand said. “These statues were only moving within 3-4 families. Not only Nazis but art historians and even some Jews are interested in these pieces because they are a part of history.

“The people who were trying to find a buyer didn’t actually have access to the horses,” Brand said. “They were trying to offer buyers to the owners. This woman (the former art dealer) walks around well-dressed and pretends to be rich although she lives in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood in Berlin. She had neither access to the horses, nor could she provide a buyer. Although she passed on the information to the police, she could not go forward.

“Michel van Rijn was approached by a Stephen from Belgium who offered two bronze horses for sale. Michel is half Jewish and retired so he contacted me to give it a try,” Brand said. “It took me 1 1/2 years to infiltrate and gain confidence because I was going through middlemen. I told Stephen that I had an oil baron from Dallas who would be interested in purchasing unique pieces with a story attached. Stephen then offered the two bronze horses by Thorak but that was only the first step. Finally, I gained his confidence and we had meetings that I filmed for hours and he made a few mistakes that provided information about the men he was working for, the owners of the horses. Konstantin and I arranged satellite photos of the garden of one of these men and we saw the bronze army known as “Die Wehrmacht” — the most famous statue of Nazi propaganda which was shown in Nazi films as standing in the Reichs Chancellery. We couldn’t believe our eyes.

"Then in another conversation, Stephen slipped and finally we gave rumors to German police and with this witness statement they could do these raids. So many places, so many policemen had to be coordinated. If it had gone wrong, I could be able to speak to the press today. One of the police officers told me and Konstantin that when they entered one of the warehouses, they stood there for 5 minutes to just look at the horses, the 40,000 kilo statue, and the other Reichs Chancellery statues that we recognized from old films. They said it was more than they could have imagined.”

This recovery of cultural property and lost art is not art stolen by the Nazis but art commissioned by Hitler between 1933-1945. I asked him what it’s like to recover such art from such a difficult period of history.

“It’s a dual feeling. Nazi art, you can ask every historian, is part of history and should be preserved,” Brand said. “Art itself does not kill. It was art created by artists who were famous before and after the war although the art was used as propaganda to demonstrate what the perfect human being should be. These pieces can teach us that totalitarian regimes are not that far apart — Hitler’s statues were procured during Stalin’s reign and hidden on a Russian army base. You can look at art and recognize the elements that reflect totalitarian regimes — art can show us what is behind certain ideologies such as those repressive governments in Eastern Europe or Africa.”

One of the downsides of recovering lost art, Arthur Brand said, is the impact it has on other people. In this case, Brand is going to drink a beer with one of the art dealers involved in this case. “It was not my intention, when these horses were found, to get these art dealers who are in their 70s in trouble," Brand said. "The owners of this Nazi art wanted to sell them because their children had threatened to destroy the art as a way of erasing their family ties to a Nazi past.

“The art idealized the masculine and feminine. Art was an important propaganda tool for the Nazis and continues to be so for other totalitarian regimes. Art is a warning sign of the intentions of certain governments. Showing Nazi art can be an educational tool. Exposing these pieces can show people and help explain why they did this — the propaganda art was meant to prepare people’s minds to dehumanize others who were sent to concentration camps. This Nazi art was used to support their ideology.

“You cannot erase history by destroying art you don’t agree with. Hitler tried it. Stalin tried it. We need to show it, teach it, and explain it so that we recognize totalitarian and repressive regimes when they emerge."


Other articles may be found through Arthur Brand's Facebook page.

Brand also worked on the recovery of art in a theft at the Museum van Bommel van Dam.