MANHATTAN (CN) – The federal government will return 11 German paintings taken by a U.S. soldier in the aftermath of World War II, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
Beth Ann McFadden inherited 11 paintings from her great-uncle Harry Gurskey, an Army sergeant who served in Germany during World War II. Curious about their origins, McFadden discovered the paintings were among 50 from the Municipal Museum of Pirmasens hidden in an air raid shelter under a girls’ school.
The town of Pirmasens was bombed heavily by allied forces in 1945, and many U.S. servicemen were stationed there after the raids. It was then, McFadden believed, that her uncle took the paintings.
In February, McFadden turned the paintings over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, who further investigated their origins. Agent Bonnie Goldblatt interviewed people who knew Sgt. Gurskey and confirmed McFadden’s suspicions that her great-uncle had hidden the paintings in his basement. Gurskey’s widow said she gave several paintings to family friends.
Three of the paintings are by the well-known 19th century artist Heinrich Buerkel, who was born in Pirmasens. Each of Buerkel’s paintings are believed to be worth around $50,000. Officials believe many of the lost or stolen paintings are still at large.
“We hope that this example will prompt others who might have ‘mystery’ paintings in their family to bring them to ICE,” said Special Agent James Hayes. “If they are stolen art, let the United States return them to their rightful owner.”
The paintings are on their way back to Pirmasens following a repatriation ceremony at the Goethe-Institute in Manhattan.