Quietly and with limited funds, West Germany is buying back important artworks that left the country during the Nazi era.
Officials involved in the slow recovery of what Germans call their "wandered culture" decline to say how much they've spent to bring home some historically important works.But at least $29 million is known to have been spent over the past five years in the effort.
West Germany struggles with a particularly acute problem of exiled art because of the volume of works sold during World War II to help bankroll the Nazi war effort.
Thousands of paintings, manuscripts, sculptures and other cultural goods were salvaged from private collections or produced abroad by Jews and intellectuals hounded from their homeland by Adolf Hitler's regime. But only a fraction of the displaced art made its way back to Germany after the war.
"We have no defined plan for buying up all the important artworks that have wandered out of the country over the years, but when the opportunity arises we make our best effort to get back what has been lost," explained Hans Hieronymus, who heads the Interior Ministry's office responsible for art acquisitions.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hieronymus produced a list of the major works repatriated over the past few months. They included three 16th century paintings by Albrecht Durer, original compositions of Richard Wagner and Robert Schumann, Franz Kafka's 1920 manuscript of "The Trial" and some personal letters, and a 1463 edition of "The Apocalypse," one of the earliest products of Johann Gutenberg's block-printing press.
The most stunning indication of West Germany's commitment to restoration of Germany's cultural heritage was the purchase five years ago of The Gospel of Henry the Lionhearted, a handwritten, 552-page, 12th century volume that has commanded the highest price to date for a book - $18.8 million.
A government art appraiser, Hartmut Vogel, says the Henry the Lionhearted purchase was an inspiring success for West German art circles as it rewarded an unprecedented effort of cooperation among the sometimes fractious state and federal art dealers and private cultural foundations.
"This was our masterpiece acquisition, but for the most part our funds are too small to achieve much headway," Vogel told AP.
He alluded to the purchase in mid-November of the Kafka manuscript by the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg as a bargain at $1.98 million. But that kind of surprise acquisition is unlikely to be pulled off with any degree of frequency, he conceded.
"Every national museum tries to repatriate those artworks that were lost during the Nazi regime," said Verena Tafelm, an art historian. "But being too aggressive can have the result of driving the prices up."