Amidst the current public debate on reparations, it's fascinating to learn that investigative reporter Hector Feliciano, whose book The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World's Greatest Works of Art helped pave the way for international discussion on restoration of stolen property and reparations for crimes against humanity, considers himself more of a journalist than a crusader.
Feliciano's book, first published in France in 1995 and now in its fourth edition, takes a detective-story approach to the Nazi Germans' organized looting of art treasures in Europe during World War II -- and in particular from five wealthy French Jewish families -- for Adolf Hitler's proposed official Nazi art museum. The book then traces the postwar disposal of the swag by unscrupulous art dealers and commissions -- with an eye to restoring the artworks to their rightful owners. New Yorker Feliciano spent eight years in Paris writing The Lost Museum, and he has been sued for libel for his incendiary findings. "The book has had a very long career, which is surprising to me," says the author, who likens the story to solving a puzzle involving a politically embarrassed French government and a guilty art establishment. "After the book was published in France, [then-president Jacques] Chirac freed the archives. The book had a liberating effect. It shows the power of the word."
By his reckoning, Feliciano's investigation has led to the recovery of hundreds of artworks. The author now does private research for families and consults for museums, and he has even discovered a stolen Matisse in the collection of the Seattle Museum of Art (which is reportedly giving it back). Are there any questionable museum holdings in California? Feliciano won't say. But in the Q&A session after his lecture Sunday afternoon, May 5 (4 p.m.) at UC Berkeley's Northgate Hall, perhaps we can ask him again. Feliciano's talk is sponsored by the UCB School of Journalism and the Magnes Museum. Info: 415-591-8800 or www.magnesmuseum.org
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