WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland will formally ask Russia to return seven paintings now in a leading Moscow museum that were looted during World War II by the Soviet Red Army, the Polish culture minister said Wednesday.
But Piotr Glinski also said that about 20 previous requests to Moscow for the return of thousands of other items stolen during WWII have fallen on deaf ears. The previously requested items included archives of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, paintings by Old Masters such as Durer, Holbein or Cranach and manuscripts by Polish authors.
“Until this day (Russia’s) government has not reviewed any of the claims,” Glinski told a press conference. He added that Russia is the only among several countries approached so far to have failed to even respond to Poland on the subject.
Poland’s historically strained ties with Russia hit a new low following Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February. A former satellite of the Soviet Union, Warsaw supports Kyiv and is pushing for more sanctions against Moscow.
The new request concerns seven paintings by Italian artists that are now at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. They date from the 14th to the 18th century and include “Two Saints” by Spinello Aretino and “Adoration of the Child” by Lorenzo di Credi.
Before the war they were in the collections of the Czartoryski family in Goluchow, at the Wilanow Palace, and in Poznan, Wroclaw and Lodz.
Glinski said it is hard to estimate how much of Poland’s art and culture was destroyed or looted by occupying Nazi German and Soviet troops during the war, but at the time it was believed that Polish museums had lost about 50% of their collections.
“Traces of hundreds of thousands of items lead to the Russian Federation and to the former Soviet republics,” Glinski said.
He said Poland “will never stop searching for … cultural items that were looted” during the war.
Since 2016 alone, Poland has retrieved more than 600 looted cultural artifacts, but none of them from Russia, Glinski said.
Among them are the paintings “Madonna under the Fir Tree” by Lucas Cranach the Elder, which had ended up in Switzerland, and “Jewish Woman Selling Oranges” by Polish 19th century painter Aleksander Gierymski, which was returned from Germany.