Polish president backs return of Prussian art

December 18, 1998

Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski has suggested that collections from the Prussian State Library, held by the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, be returned to Germany.

His suggestion, made in an interview with the Berlin newspaper Der Tagespiegel during his visit to Germany last week, was welcomed by the Germans, but came as an unpleasant surprise to the Polish academics and officials responsible for the collection.

Kwasniewski said that Polish and German works of art that had "been robbed" should be returned to their countries of origin. He suggested that the planned celebrations for the anniversary of the historic meeting, in the year 1000, between the German emperor Otto III and King Boleslaw the Bold of Poland, might be an appropriate occasion. He also said the German side should take the first steps.

The newspaper, however, headlined the interview "Aleksander Kwasniewski demands return of Prussian State Library Collection kept in Krakow".

The Krakow academics, who have been custodians of the Potsdam collection for the past half-century were sceptical.

The director of the Jagiellonian University Library, Stanislaw Waltos, pointed out that during the war the Nazis looted 594 recorded exhibits from the university alone, including gold medals, famous tapestries and documents associated with Wit Stwosz, the artist of the altar triptych in Krakow cathedral.

Only two exhibits have so far been recovered from Germany: a drawing by Wit Stwosz and the painting Venus and Cupid.

The rector of the Jagiellonian University, Aleksander Koj, said that they should advocate a "comprehensive solution" to the problem of the return of cultural treasures.

At the same time, however, he expressed a hope that the Prussian Library collections would remain in Poland.

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