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Spanish museum returns 2 paintings looted by Nazis to Poland

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MADRID — A museum in northwestern Spain on Wednesday returned two 15th-century paintings to Polish officials after it was determined they were looted by Nazi German forces during World War II.

The paintings “Mater Dolorosa” (Mother of Sorrows) and “Ecce Homo” were handed over to a delegation from the Polish Ministry of Culture. According to Spain’s Pontevedra Museum, the works were originally by Dieric Bouts, a Flemish master born in the Dutch city of Haarlem, but are now attributed to a member of his school or group.

The museum said in 2020 it was informed by Polish officials that the works had been looted by Nazi forces. The museum quickly decided to send them back to Poland, but obtaining official permissions for the transfer had delayed it until now.

Nazi forces stole the works from the Czartoryski collection in Gołuchów when the town was occupied by the German army during World War II, Polish officials said. They appeared in Madrid in 1973 and had been in the Pontevedra museum since 1994, when they were acquired among more than 300 works purchased from a private Spanish collector.

Poland saw much of its cultural heritage destroyed or looted during the country’s wartime occupation by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and around 500,000 items are still missing.

The country has made efforts to recover as much as possible. The Ministry of Culture has a division for looted art which maintains a database of missing objects and searches foreign collections and auctions. When they locate a looted Polish painting, book or other object, they notify the law enforcement officials of that country.

AP writer Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.

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