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Museum Expects Return of Art Treasures from Soviets Soon

August 16, 1990

WEST BERLIN (AP) _ A West German museum said today it soon expects to recover 362 valuable drawings and watercolors taken during World War II, including works by Duerer, Rubens and van Gogh.

The works were taken to the Soviet Union after the war - one of numerous cases of treasures plundered or spirited away from the defeated nation.

Ursula Lichtlein, a spokeswoman for the Kunsthalle Bremen museum, said officials there expect the 362 art works will be returned next month or in October.

She cautioned that ″negotiations are still under way″ with Moscow, including questions of whether any payment will be involved.

″We have organized an exhibition for next year, so that we can show the returned works to the public,″ Ms. Lichtlein said by telephone from the northern port city of Bremen.

The way the Bremen drawings and watercolors reached the Soviet Union sounds almost like the plot from a suspense novel.

In 1945, as the Red Army advanced on Germany, a Soviet soldier stumbled across the stunning collection of drawings and watercolors stashed in a castle for safekeeping.

The soldier, an architect in an engineering corps, bundled what he could off to Moscow, where he stored them in a museum. There they sat, covered and concealed from the world.

Now the aging soldier says the pieces should go back to the Kunsthalle Bremen, their true owner.

Kunsthalle Bremen director Siegfried Salzmann says about 4,000 items went to a castle northwest of Berlin ″to prevent damage by air attacks.″ Soviet troops occupied the area in April 1945.

The Soviet soldier, Viktor Baldin, asked his superiors what was to be done with the art and when they showed no interest, he packed off what he could to Moscow, Salzmann said.

Some of the museum’s wartime treasures were returned after 1945, but many others are still missing, Salzmann said.

The soldier, now in his 70s, contacted the Bremen museum last year and told them for the first time that some of what they had given up for lost was secure in Moscow.

″We supposed they could be in the Soviet Union, but we didn’t know,″ Salzmann said in an earlier Associated Press interview. He was on a business trip today and could not be reached for comment.

The museum has invited Baldin to Bremen in September to help write a reminiscence for the museum’s catalog. Other artists’ represented included Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, van Dyck and Goya.

Bremen’s art treasures are stored for now in a museum in Moscow.

During World War II, museums, libraries and churches packed up their most valuable works and shipped them off for safekeeping, often to the eastern reaches of Germany, away from Allied bombers.

In a Texas court, an East German church financed by West Germany is fighting the heirs of a U.S. soldier who the church claims made off with a cache of priceless objects hidden in a mine.

U.S. forces occupied the Quedlinburg area, in what is now East Germany, in 1945.

The treasures include a silver, ivory and gold reliquary from the 9th or 10th century, a 10th century Byzantine rock-crystal flask and an ivory comb inlaid with precious stones.

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