Bruno Lohse (17 September 1911 – 19 March 2007) was a German art dealer who, during World War II, became the chief art looter in Paris for Hermann Göring, helping the Nazi leader amass a vast collection of plundered artworks. During the war, Göring boasted that he owned the largest private art collection in Europe.
World War II
Lohse, who published a scholarly thesis on painter Jacob Philipp Hackert in 1936, worked as an art dealer in Berlin from 1936 to 1939, selling paintings out of his father's home. Having joined the SS in 1933, Lohse became a member of the Nazi Party in 1937. He would eventually be drafted into Göring's Luftwaffe, then appointed by Göring to the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), Hitler's special art looting unit.
Lohse arrived in Paris by November 1940 to help catalog the celebrated and eclectic collection of Alphonse Kann, which numbered 1,202 items. Though Lohse reported to Paris ERR chief Kurt von Behr (1890-1945), he enjoyed "special agent" status conferred on him by Göring. Among other privileges, Lohse was not required to wear a uniform for the nearly four years he lived in occupied Paris. As the ERR's Deputy Director in Paris from 1942 to 1944, Lohse helped supervise the systematic theft of at least 22,000 paintings and art objects in France, most of which were taken from Jewish families.
Although Lohse set aside the most highly prized Old Masters for Hitler's Führer Museum (planned in Linz), he helped Göring develop his own enormous private art collection, which accumulated during the war at Göring's vast German estate, Carinhall. Between November 1940 and November 1942, Lohse staged 20 exhibitions of looted art for Hitler's second-in-command in the Jeu de Paume, from which Göring selected at least 594 pieces for his own collection.
Lohse was awarded the War Merit Cross, 2nd class by Adolf Hitler because of his activities in art theft in Paris.
Interrogation and imprisonment
Lohse fled Paris in August 1944, and briefly served in one of Göring's safe Berlin regiments before travelling to Neuschwanstein Castle in February 1945, where a major cache of art looted in France (as well as the Rothschild family jewels) had been safely stored. Lohse was ordered by Robert Scholz to protect Nazi art holdings and records from destruction, and to "turn them over to the American authorities at such time as Füssen [a nearby town] might be occupied."
Facing a possible death sentence for crimes witnessed in Paris by Rose Valland (and others), Lohse underwent a two-month interrogation, during which he shared a cell with two other notorious Nazi art looters, Karl Haberstock and Walter Hofer. The suicide of Baron Kurt von Behr proved to be a godsend to Lohse, permitting him to blame the systematic confiscation of French art collections on his former ERR chief in Paris. Lohse cooperated with American occupiers and repeatedly traded his encyclopedic knowledge of the Nazi art trade for further leniency—he testified, for example, in the Nuremberg trials in November 1945, providing evidence against his superiors and professing a personal distaste for activities of the ERR.
After being transferred from American to French custody in 1948, Lohse was acquitted in a 1950 military tribunal in Paris against some officials of the Einsatzstab Reichleiter Rosenberg. Lohse never conceded responsibility for art looting, admitting only to possessing furniture stolen from deported Jewish families which Lohse had abandoned in his Paris apartment.
Although the conditions of Lohse's release forbade him ever to work again as an art dealer, German officials quietly allowed Lohse to resume his profession in Bavaria (Munich) in the early 1950s. An unrepentant Nazi, Lohse was among several former Nazi art dealers who, after the war, pressed their own restitution claims for work they claimed to have lost during the years of conflict. Lohse's legitimately acquired collection of Dutch old masters and Expressionist paintings was said to be valued in the "millions." Lohse's death in March 2007 was little-noticed, apparently because few realized one of the Third Reich's most notorious art looters was still alive.
In May 2007, the seizure of a secret Zurich bank vault (under Lohse's control since 1978) turned up a valuable Camille Pissarro painting stolen by the Gestapo from a prominent Jewish publisher in Vienna in 1938, as well as paintings of uncertain provenance by Monet and Renoir. According to U.S. historian and looted art expert Jonathan Petropoulos, who "got to know [Lohse] well" in the last decade of his life, the existence of the vault makes it "not only possible, but likely" that Lohse had sold looted artworks in recent decades. Painted in 1903 and the first in Pissarro's last series of Paris city views, "Le Quai Malaquais, Printemps" was restituted later in 2007 by a Liechtenstein court to an heir of Gottfried Bermann Fischer, and ultimately auctioned in November 2009 for $1,850,000 ($2,154,000 with Christie's premium) under its new title, "Le Quai Malaquais et l'Institut".
European prosecutors seized documents confirming that at least 14 paintings left Lohse's safe since 1983, including paintings by Corot and Sisley as well as-yet-unnamed works by Dürer and Kokoschka, among others. An international investigation of Lohse's activities (as well as possible collusion with galleries and auction houses) was opened as of 2006 and currently involves three European countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. According to widely accepted estimates, of the 600,000 artworks looted by the Nazis in World War II, up to 100,000 were destroyed or are still missing.
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