Germany Thanks Russia for Returned Art, Asks for the Rest Back

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Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union returned 1.5 million art treasures looted at the end of World War II to East Germany. Twenty-eight German museums are staging a series of exhibitions to say thank you.

Gratitude is one half of the message. The other is: Can we have the remaining 1 million works back now too, please?

Ever since reunification in 1990, Germany has been gently pressuring Russia for the return of the art, with few results. Many Russians, including museum directors, view the booty as legitimate compensation for Soviet treasures looted or destroyed by Hitler's troops. Under Russian law, German art taken by Stalin's Soviet Trophy Commission is Russian state property.

It's safe to assume that with conflict in Georgia to watch, the Russian authorities are paying scant attention to the first of the nine planned shows. Yet ``Fifty Years of Loss and Return'' at Sanssouci, the summer palace commissioned by Frederick the Great in Potsdam, offers an interesting insight into the scale of the losses -- and the scope of that restitution in 1958.

In an act of friendship to communist East Germany, 300 train carriages from Moscow and St. Petersburg carried back 1.5 million of the 2.5 million art treasures that disappeared at the end of the war. Without that gesture, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin would be bereft of the Pergamon Altar and postcards and mouse mats in Dresden's tourist shops would have to feature something other than the cherubs of Raphael's ``Sistine Madonna.''

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