After years of controversy, a collection of 6,897 pieces of Nazi war art may soon be on its way to the Federal Republic of Germany. The art, which includes paintings, sketches, woodcuts, etchings and sculpture, was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to record the victories and valor of the Third Reich. After the war, it was collected by the U.S. Army as part of an agreement by the Allies to locate, confiscate and destroy all art that might revitalize Nazism.
Instead of destroying the art, the Army shipped it to the United States, where most of it has been stored at the U.S. Army Center for Military History. For years, the artists and their relatives have been trying to reclaim the art, and this has caused headaches at the State Department. First of all, the Army isn't even supposed to have the art. Second, German officials say the art is not "part of the German culture" and say they don't want it back. Finally, it is illegal in Germany to display any Nazi emblems, symbols or paintings that "tend to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition."
Congress recently sent President Reagan a proposal it hopes will solve the problem by creating a 15-member committee to decide what art can be returned. Members would include former senator Jacob Javits; Leonard Garment, one-time counsel to President Nixon, and a representative from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Just how much of the art could be sent back is unclear, because Congress said it doesn't want the committee to return art that depicts Nazi party emblems, Nazi party leaders or glorifies Nazism. Nor can it send back art by convicted war criminals, four watercolors painted by Adolf Hitler or 200 paintings deemed useful by the U.S. military.