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 Wachter. The Viennese wife of Otto Wachter, Krakow's Nazi governor who was blamed for deporting 68,000 Jews, Frau Wachter walked into Krakow's National Museum one day in 1939 and helped herself. As the Polish government later wrote, she took "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, Wachter's son, Horst Wachter, returned three pilfered works, including one of his mother's favorites, a painting of Potocki Palace. 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 Wachter, 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 one of the other works, a map of 17th-century Poland, 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, Wachter 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 Metropolitan Museum of Art was sued over a looted Picasso.)