The Fis­ch­er Pis­sar­ro” (Le Quai Malaquais) that Lohse kept in a Swiss bank vault.

As soon as I met Dr. Bruno Lohse in June 1998, I knew I want­ed to write a book about him. Lohse had been Reich Mar­shal Her­mann Goering’s chief art agent in Paris dur­ing the war and became the co-direc­tor of the Nazi plun­der­ing agency called the ERR (an abbre­vi­a­tion­for Spe­cial Task Force of Reich Leader Rosen­berg). Lohse helped steal over 30,000 art­works from French Jews and was a play­er in the Paris art mar­ket dur­ing the war.

I had been study­ing Nazi art plun­der­ing for fif­teen years when I first trav­eled to Munich to meet him. When we met, he said he didn’t want to talk about him­self, but would answer ques­tions about his cohort dur­ing and after the war. This imme­di­ate­ly made me curi­ous about his own sto­ry, but for the time being, I acced­ed to his wish­es and we talked about others.

Some years after Lohse’s death in 2007, I saw a doc­u­ment writ­ten in 1951 by a for­mer Ger­man army offi­cer, where he described meet­ing Lohse dur­ing the war. Lohse, this aris­to­crat recount­ed, had boast­ed of killing Jews with his own hands. The writer did not know whether to believe Lohse, and to this day, I do not know if Lohse per­son­al­ly mur­dered any­one, but the let­ter brought to the fore the ques­tion of Lohse as a per­pe­tra­tor. This is one of the ques­tions I focus on in my lat­est book, Göring’s Man in Paris: The Sto­ry of a Nazi Art Plun­der­er and His World.

I found evi­dence that Lohse accom­pa­nied the ERR com­man­dos as they con­duct­ed their raids on the homes of French Jews. Some­times the res­i­dents had been removed so recent­ly that the dwellings were described as warm.” As a mem­ber of the SS, Lohse had no illu­sions about the war against the Jews.” The fact that he saved sev­er­al Jew­ish col­leagues — such as leg­endary muse­um direc­tor and art his­to­ri­an Max Fried­laen­der — indi­cates he knew that Jews sent to the East faced a grim fate. Using the author­i­ty of his chief, Her­man Göring, Lohse res­cued the Jew­ish wife of a Parisian art deal­er from a French camp — mean­ing he saw a con­cen­tra­tion camp first-hand as well.

Bruno Lohse also had a very active career in the post­war peri­od, which raised the impor­tant ques­tion that no oth­er author had yet answered: what had become of the Nazi art plun­der­ers? Lohse had spent five years in prison before being released by a French Mil­i­tary Tri­bunal in 1950. He relo­cat­ed his art deal­ing oper­a­tions from Berlin to Munich and became part of a net­work of for­mer Nazi deal­ers and muse­um offi­cials. The net­works radi­at­ed out­ward and extend­ed to Paris and the Unit­ed States.

The pic­ture had been owned by the Fis­ch­er fam­i­ly — the famed Jew­ish pub­lish­ing house in Frank­furt. The fam­i­ly had moved to Vien­na in the mid-1930s and the Pis­sar­ro was stolen from them after the Anschluss in 1938.

One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing finds of my research con­cerned Bruno Lohse’s net­works. It includ­ed not just the afore­men­tioned Nazi fig­ures (many based in Munich), but also Mon­u­ments Man and Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art cura­tor Theodore Rousseau, along with mem­bers of the Wilden­stein fam­i­ly — the leg­endary French-Jew­ish art deal­ing dynasty. Lohse had turned to Rousseau and the oth­er OSS offi­cers in the Amer­i­cans’ Art Loot­ing Inves­ti­ga­tion Unit after he was trans­ferred to French cus­tody in 1946. What start­ed as a plea for help devel­oped into a twen­ty-five year-long rela­tion­ship — and indeed, a friend­ship. Rousseau was a risk-tak­er — a swash-buck­ling cura­tor who embraced dan­ger and adven­ture. The Wilden­stein sto­ry is more com­pli­cat­ed (there is a chap­ter on the sub­ject in the book). Some of the Wilden­steins’ art had been loot­ed by the ERR dur­ing the war, and it is extra­or­di­nary that Lohse had a rela­tion­ship with fam­i­ly mem­bers in the post­war period.

Lohse, like many try­ing to con­ceal assets, uti­lized the Alpine prin­ci­pal­i­ty of Liecht­en­stein to great advan­tage. Liecht­en­stein is a kind of appendage to Switzer­land; while the lat­ter is well-known for its secre­tive bank­ing cul­ture, the for­mer also has a less­er-known his­to­ry, since World War II, in spe­cial­iz­ing in foun­da­tions that have served to con­ceal wealth. Lohse availed him­self of the oppor­tu­ni­ties in both coun­tries: his Zurich lawyer arranged for a bank vault, which held loot­ed art­works among oth­er pic­tures, and this same lawyer set up the foun­da­tion for Lohse in Vaduz, the cap­i­tal of Liecht­en­stein. The lawyer, Fred­er­ic Schöni, called Lohse’s foun­da­tion Schö­nart” — a decep­tive name that afford­ed Lohse a bit more cov­er. Fred­er­ic Schöni was also a key lawyer for the Wilden­steins, and helped them ship dozens — if not hun­dreds — of valu­able art­works via Switzer­land to the Unit­ed States in the 1950s.

Addi­tion­al­ly, Fred­er­ic Schöni helped Lohse con­ceal a paint­ing by the Jew­ish French Impres­sion­ist painter Camille Pis­sar­ro. The pic­ture had been owned by the Fis­ch­er fam­i­ly — the famed Jew­ish pub­lish­ing house in Frank­furt. The fam­i­ly had moved to Vien­na in the mid-1930s and the Pis­sar­ro was stolen from them after the Anschluss in 1938. Fam­i­ly mem­bers con­tin­ued the search for decades until its dis­cov­ery in Lohse’s Zurich bank vault. Lohse’s sto­ry has impor­tant impli­ca­tions for the ongo­ing resti­tu­tion work.

I find it sat­is­fy­ing that my research has prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion and that I have been able to assist many vic­tims and their heirs in recov­er­ing Nazi loot­ed art. I have worked on more than a dozen cas­es — always on the side of the Jew­ish claimant — and I believe there is an eth­i­cal com­po­nent to my work.

There is still so much we don’t know about Bruno Lohse and his life — both before and after 1945. My book has been optioned for a doc­u­men­tary film that is still in pro­duc­tion, and the researchers for the film have already made dis­cov­er­ies since the pub­li­ca­tion of my book. I am remind­ed of the obser­va­tion of the great Holo­caust schol­ar Raul Hilberg, “… there is no final­i­ty. Find­ings are always sub­ject to cor­rec­tion and refor­mu­la­tion… The real­i­ty of events is elu­sive, as it must be, and the unremit­ting effort con­tin­ues for the small incre­men­tal gains, no mat­ter their cost, lest all be relin­quished and forgotten.”[1]

Fur­ther Read­ing: while a rich lit­er­a­ture on Nazi art plun­der­ing has devel­oped since 1945 (there is an Oxford Bib­li­og­ra­phy guide to the top­ic), the fol­low­ing books illu­mi­nate some of the themes in Göring’s Man in Paris:

Hec­tor Feli­ciano, The Lost Muse­um: The Nazi Con­spir­a­cy to Steal the World’s Great­est Works of Art (New York: Basic Books, 1997).

Cather­ine Hick­ley, The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler’s Deal­er and his Secret Lega­cy (Lon­don: Thames & Hud­son, 2015).

Meike Hoff­mann and Dieter Scholz, eds., Unmas­tered Past? Mod­ernism in Nazi Ger­many: Art, Art Trade, Cura­to­r­i­al Prac­tice (Berlin: Ver­brech­er Ver­lag, 2020).

Arthur Brand, Hitler’s Hors­es: The Incred­i­ble True Sto­ry of the Detec­tive Who Infil­trat­ed the Nazi Under­world (Kin­dle edi­tion, 2021)

[1] Raul Hilberg, Sources of Holo­caust Research: An Analy­sis (Chica­go: Ivan Dee, 2001), 204.

Jonathan Petropou­los is the John V. Croul Pro­fes­sor of Euro­pean His­to­ry at Clare­mont McKen­na Col­lege. He is a Life Mem­ber of Clare Hall, Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, and a Fel­low at the Roy­al His­tor­i­cal Society.