The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 19, 2014

A family's 70-year quest to regain treasures stolen by Nazis


Bernard Goodman died in 1994 in Germany, where, to his sons’ great surprise, he’d settled after kindling a late-in-life romance with a German woman. She sent the contents of his desk to L.A., where Simon, now 66, has lived since transplanting the rock music importing and distribution business he’d owned from London in 1979. Nick, 68, is an art director for films and commercials who came to the U.S. in 1969.

The correspondence, photographs and other records that Bernard Goodman had kept finally gave the brothers a window on his search for missing art.

“Some families were so damaged that they didn’t want to go back” where tragedy had overtaken them, Simon Goodman said. “My father was brave. He took the first boat to Holland after the war and started knocking on doors. Things dried up, eventually,” but about 40 years later, Bernard’s carefully kept records would contain enough clues for his sons to pick up the search.

For the most part, their father had recovered artworks initially rescued in France and Germany from 1944 to 1946 by art specialists attached to the U.S. Army — the units whose story inspired George Clooney’s recently released film, “The Monuments Men.”

“The problem, going back to the Monuments Men, is that nobody made any serious attempt to finish the job thoroughly,” said Simon Goodman.

Under Allied policy, the military’s art specialists — officially Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives units — sent their finds back to where they’d been before the war. It was left to each postwar government in Western Europe to restore the art to its owners or their heirs — if they were alive and could produce proof of who they were and what they’d owned.

Claimants faced daunting obstacles, including property laws that gave no special consideration to things the Nazis had stolen. In some nations, families that had been forced to sell art to Nazi agents for a pittance were out of luck because the legal codes said a sale was a sale, never mind the circumstances.

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