Son of Nazi Returns Stolen Art to France
An 80-year-old German man by the name of Peter Forner has returned a piece of art to the Embassy of France in Berlin. The work, by Nicolas Rousseau, represents a rural scene and dates from the nineteenth-century. Radio France Internationale (RFI) has stated that this painting is worth more than 3000 euros (around $3300 US).
Forner’s father was an officer in the Nazi army who was stationed in Normandy during World War II. According to the head of the Commission for the Compensation of Victims of Spoliation in Germany, a French organization that returns Nazi-looted art, Alfred Forner (Peter’s father) was an officer in the Luftwaffe. When he was granted permission to return to Berlin, one of his superiors asked him to take home this painting. Forner went to the address indicated and discovered a home that was in ruins. He then found the painting and kept it at his home.
Because the origin and legitimate owner is currently unknown, the work was officially released to the French government on July 23, 2019.
Der Berliner Peter Forner übergibt ein Gemälde von Nicolas Rousseau an den 🇫🇷 Staat, vertreten durch Botschafterin @amdescotes. Es war im 2. Weltkrieg von Frankreich nach Berlin gelangt, wo es bis heute von der Familie verwahrt wurde. Eine bewegende Geste der 🇩🇪🇫🇷 Freundschaft. pic.twitter.com/32gwljeMnp— Botschaft Frankreich (@FranzBotschaft) July 23, 2019
Following the ceremony marking the return of the artwork to France, Forner told RFI that he felt that giving back this painting would help him “go away with [a] peace of mind” knowing that he had returned something that did not belong to him and perhaps was even stolen.
Cérémonie à l’ambassade de France à Berlin @FranzBotschaft : un tableau ramené de France par un soldat allemand restitué par son fils Peter Forner 75 ans plus tard (aux côtés de l’ambassadrice @amdescotes). Reste encore à clarifier l’origine de l’œuvre de Nicolas Rousseau pic.twitter.com/JGSiuZpJUt— Pascal Thibaut (@pthibaut) July 23, 2019
This painting marks the first time that a work with an unknown origin has been given to France by an individual. The painting will be deposited in a public institution in Normandy until the rightful owner is found.
Throughout World War II, the German army stole millions of works of art from families to sell or keep as trophies of war. Efforts have been made over the past several decades, spearheaded by World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, to track down and repatriate art looted by the Nazis during the Second World War, but hundreds of thousands of pieces still remain unaccounted.