Missing Stained-Glass Panels Returned to German Church

APNeumann, center, posing with two lost panels in a German church Monday.
BERLIN — Six stained-glass windowpanes missing since World War II were returned home to a church in the eastern German town of Frankfurt an der Oder on Monday, 67 years after they were removed to protect them from war damage.

The 600-year-old windows of the St. Marienkirche were packed in boxes and sent to Potsdam for safekeeping in 1941, according to a statement from the city of Frankfurt an der Oder, which lies about 100 kilometers east of Berlin on the Polish border. After the war, Soviet troops shipped them home as booty. In 2002, Russia sent back 111 stained-glass panels that were stored in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The last six panels, believed lost, unexpectedly turned up in storage at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow in 2005. The German government, city authorities and the church had been negotiating for their return ever since. The crates were opened by German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann in a ceremony at the church Monday.

Stalin's Soviet Trophy Commission plundered about 2.5 million artworks from East Germany after the war. The Soviet Union returned 1.5 million items in the 1950s, including the Pergamon Altar to Berlin and Raphael's "Sistine Madonna" to Dresden.

Since German reunification in 1990 the government has been pressuring Russia for the return of the art, with few results. The stained-glass windows of Frankfurt an der Oder's Marienkirche are one of the few successes. Under Russian law, art taken by the Soviet Trophy Commission is Russian state property.

The panels belong to three windows from the choir stalls in the church, showing the book of Genesis, the story of Jesus' mother, Mary, and the rise of the Antichrist. Those already returned have been restored and refitted.