The US gives Poland back a painting stolen by the Nazis

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The movie "The Monuments Men" comes out today. It's about an American platoon in World War Two trying to rescue artwork stolen by the Nazis. We've got a similar story. Poland's national museum had a lot of art looted during the war and just yesterday one of the many missing paintings was finally returned, courtesy of the US government.

James Hayes: On behalf of Homeland Security Investigations, it gives me great, great pleasure to be able to return to the people of Poland this valuable painting that was stolen more than 70 years ago. Stolen art, antiquities and fraudulently acquired artifacts - these are the little known casualties of war.

Werman: Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka is Poland's Consul General in New York. Madam Consul, what went through your head when you were handed back this painting yesterday?

Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka: We were very happy thanks to the cooperation of the special agent in charge, James Hayes. We have celebrated such a return of Polish art. It was a very moving event. Poland suffered greatly during the Second World War and of course the people are the most important. We lost 6 million Polish citizens, amongst them 3 million Polish Jews, as well as many beautiful art objects. At the moment, we're still missing 70,000 art objects.

Werman: 70,000 still out there?

Junczyk-Ziomecka: Yes, 70,000, that's a lot. But I'm very grateful to our partners on the American side, and yesterday one of the significant pieces of art went with the Minister back to Poland, to the place where it belongs to the National Museum in Warsaw where the art was stolen during the Second World War, probably in 1944 by Nazi Germans.

Werman: Tell us about this painting. I know it's from the 18th century. What do we see in it?

Junczyk-Ziomecka: It's a very well known artist, a German artist. This is the baptizing by St. Philip of the servant of Queen Kandaki. It's not a big piece of art, but it's beautiful. It has beautiful brown colors, like a beautiful Indian fall. That's the color that appears on the painting. We believed that it was destroyed during the war. For years, we thought it was lost forever. The author of this painting is Johann Conrad Seekatz, born in 1719 and who died in 1768.

Werman: I understand that Poland has asked Russia to return several paintings seized by the Soviet Red Army at the end of World War Two, including one by Bruegel. Any movement on that request?

Junczyk-Ziomecka: We're trying to. I must say that it is much easier with the American side than with other partners. The American side is helpful and very energetic. I can't say that about other partners of ours.

Werman: I don't know how much influence a Hollywood film studio has on the Department of Homeland Security, but was this partly timed to coincide with the release of this movie, "The Monuments Men"?

Junczyk-Ziomecka: I must tell you, we were so surprised. Before the ceremony, all of our guests, both on the American side and the Polish side - I invited them to my office and so we were chatting. We talk about it. Suddenly someone said, "Do you know that this movie is going to come out tomorrow in New York movie theaters?" We didn't know anything about it. Everyone was surprised except for one person. That was an absolute coincidence, and I'm happy about it, because this way we have a very good gathering of press.

Werman: Was that one person a woman by any chance, hoping that George Clooney would give the painting over?

Junczyk-Ziomecka: Well it was such a coincidence but I'm very happy for us, because otherwise it's not so easy to have very busy media to come to the Polish Consul in New York in Midtown.

Werman: You said the painting's already flown back to Warsaw? When will it be hanging in Poland's National Art Museum again?

Junczyk-Ziomecka: We're trying to make a celebration of it because after all, those pieces are like a puzzle that they put together. This is our national heritage. A minister of culture will organize a special time to give this painting back to the National Museum in Warsaw. I think it will happen very soon.

Werman: Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Poland's Consul General in New York. Thank you.

Junczyk-Ziomecka: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

Werman: It's been missing for 7 decades. Now see what it's like. We've posted a picture of the recovered painting at Pri.org.

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