U.S. to return painting stolen by Nazis to Poland

Reuters

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Just days ahead of the release of a George Clooney film about the search for art plundered during World War Two, U.S. officials announced plans on Wednesday to repatriate to Poland a Johann Conrad Seekatz painting stolen by the Nazis.

Officials declined to say more about the painting by the 18th century German artist, known for his military and landscape paintings, but said they hoped the film would bring more attention to art stolen during the war.

"When the movie comes out, there's going to be more people looking at (artwork) in their homes that a family relative may have passed down through generations, that may not actually belong to them," said Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"If members of the American public question the provenance of cultural objects from World War Two in their possession, they are urged to call Homeland Security Investigations."

Officials with ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office will present the painting to Poland's U.S. ambassador and consul general at a ceremony in Manhattan on Thursday.

The film stars American actors George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman, and French actor Jean Dujardin. It recounts the true story of a U.S. military unit of art historians who recovered artwork stolen by the Nazis and returned it to the original owners.

The movie debuts Thursday at the Berlin International Film Festival, and on Friday opens in U.S. theaters nationwide.

The original seven so-called "Monument Men" returned millions of pieces of art stolen during World War II. This week, the Dallas, Texas-based Monument Men Foundation, which continues the group's work, issued a "most wanted list" of stolen artwork.

Navas said Homeland Security Investigations have been actively involved with the Monument Men Foundation for more than a year.

"We are collaborating with them and want to continue to work with them," she said.

Bharara's office has also been repatriating high-profile stolen artwork to foreign governments and individuals.

Last year, Bharara worked with Homeland Security Investigations to return a nearly complete skeleton of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar dinosaur to Mongolia. A Florida paleontologist was prosecuted 2012 for smuggling the bones out of the Gobi desert in multiple shipments.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson and Andre Grenon)

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