The paintings, meanwhile, stayed behind — all six destined for display in the art gallery Adolf Hitler wanted to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria, according to a catalog for the planned museum.
“I only wish my grandfather was here to be able to be a part of all this, but I am sure he is watching from somewhere upstairs, so that’s fine,” Selldorff said.
At the end of the war, with Hitler dead and European cities rebuilding, artworks were left “unclaimed” and many thousands that were thought to have been French-owned found their ways into the country’s top museums. Many of the 100,000 possessions looted, stolen or appropriated between 1940 and 1944 in France have been returned to Jewish families, but France says that some 2,000 artworks still lie in state institutions.
With a twinkle in his eye and a youthful smile, Selldorff remembered wandering around his grandfather’s collection.
“I remember the house (in Vienna) very well. I remember the existence of these dark rooms with these paintings hanging,” he said, recalling that his grandfather also opened up the collection to the Austrian public. A remaining link with the art was a catalog left behind by his late mother — a sort of scrapbook with pictures of the paintings.
“So, I knew there were some very beautiful paintings in the house,” Selldorff said.
“I, too, hope that some of the art will go on loan to museums and be exhibited so that other people besides our family can appreciate them,” he said, adding that he has spoken to some U.S. museums about the possibility of showing the art to the American public.
Overall, Selldorff said it’s about being able to pass to his three children and five grandchildren a piece of his grandfather’s stolen history.
“His love of art is what I want to pass on,” he said. “It’s what makes us human.”