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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Says Jews May Not Get Art

Western hopes that Russia has many works of art stolen by the Nazis from Jewish owners during the Holocaust are "obviously exaggerated," the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry statement reaffirmed Russia's commitment to return works to individual owners or heirs if they can be found, but said that few such works were likely to come to light.

The Russian delegation at a recent international conference in Washington on restitution to Nazi victims made headlines by announcing that Russia was ready to return art objects that can be shown to have been stolen by Nazis from Holocaust victims.

Such restitutions would be difficult under Russia's trophy art law, which requires parliamentary approval for returning each work.

But the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it would be willing to discuss returning works to individuals even after the expiration of the 18-month time limit for claims since the law was enacted April 21. Noting that finding and identifying of such works of art can take a long time, the ministry said "the Russian government will be ready to discuss such issues upon the expiration of this deadline."

Kommersant newspaper Tuesday quoted the counselor for cultural affairs at the Hungarian Embassy in Moscow, Rita Mayer, as saying that Hungary intends to lay claims for art confiscated from prominent Jewish families.

"Hungarian Jews suffered in Hungary in the same way as all of Europe's Jews," Mayer said. "Their heirs are alive,and even if they are not, the property belongs to Hungary's Jewish community."

She said she had documents proving the origin of art objects that ended up after the war in the Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum, Igor Grabar Restoration Center and the Pushkin Art Museum.

Some art was taken by the Soviets from a Budapest bank where Jews had been forced to deposit their collections in the late 1930s, and others came from the collection of top Nazi official Adolf Eichmann. Fifteen paintings were secretly returned to Hungary by the Soviet Union in 1972 and another two were brought by President Boris Yeltsin during his official visit to Hungary in 1992.

Kommersant published a photo of a famous painting by Camille Corot, now one of the jewels of the Pushkin Museum, reportedly hanging in the villa of Hungarian collector Ferenz Hatvani before the war.

Mayer said in a telephone interview Tuesday that since there is a special provision in the Russian law for the property of religious organizations and Holocaust victims, "there is hope that part of the items will return to Hungary."

She hailed the work of the Russian-Hungarian commission on restitution claims. But she said it has not met since late 1997 and has not discussed the fate of any particular works of art.