Digging History

Nazi's son returns looted art to Poland

This photo taken Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 in Krakow, Poland, shows an old picture of Renaissance-era of the southern Polish city of Krakow, that together with two other artworks, was returned to Poland Sunday by Austria's Horst von Waechter, whose family had looted them from Krakow during World War II. Waechter's father, Otto von Waechter, was a Nazi governor of the occupied city. (Office of the Governor Malopolska via AP)

This photo taken Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 in Krakow, Poland, shows an old picture of Renaissance-era of the southern Polish city of Krakow, that together with two other artworks, was returned to Poland Sunday by Austria's Horst von Waechter, whose family had looted them from Krakow during World War II. Waechter's father, Otto von Waechter, was a Nazi governor of the occupied city. (Office of the Governor Malopolska via AP)

A succession of Nazi and Soviet occupiers relieved Poland of a half-million artworks during World War II, and the Guardian brings us the tale of one of those "collectors," Charlotte Waechter.

The Viennese wife of Krakow's Nazi governor, Otto Waechter, who was blamed for deporting 68,000 Jews, Frau Waechter walked into Krakow's National Museum one day in 1939 and helped herself, as the Polish government later wrote, taking "the most exquisite paintings and the most beautiful items." Since the war, Poland has been trying to reclaim its looted patrimony, often forced to buy back stolen art.

But on Sunday, Waechter's son, Horst Waechter, returned three pilfered works, including one of his mother's favorites. It is believed to be the first time a Nazi family member has returned ill-gotten works, a Polish official says.

"I hope that the return of this painting will encourage other families in possession of looted art to return them instead of trying to sell them at auction," says Ryszard Czarnecki.

But Waechter, 78, says it wasn't easy to return the stolen works to the Potocki family, the original owners. They "did not want to have anything to do with me as the son of a Nazi," he says.

Years later, a Polish historian saw the map in a Financial Times article and asked Wachter to give it back. He was happy to do so, she says.

While his mother was a "proud" Nazi, Waechter tells the Guardian that "I am not especially proud of my deeds. I do not return the objects for me, but for the sake of my mother." (The Met Museum was sued over a looted Picasso.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Nazi Son Returns Art Looted by Mom to Poland