"How U.S. military quizzed German dealer of £1bn Nazi art loot just after the war... but then let him go (along with the odd Chagall and Matisse)
In the chaotic aftermath of World War Two, the nervous art dealer battled to keep his composure while American investigators fired questions at him.
How had he come by such an astonishing art collection? He told them that he had taken it with him to Aschbach in Germany when he and his family fled Dresden after the city was devastated by Allied bombing in February 1945.
Even though the investigators were suspicious, they let Hildebrandt Gurlitt go... along with hundreds of artworks, including pieces by Chagall and Matisse, now valued at £1billion.
The fact the Americans suspected Gurlitt all those years ago - as revealed today in U.S. military documents - only adds to the mystery surrounding the treasure trove recently found in a Munich apartment.
n 1945, the American military seized 20 boxes of art from Gurlitt in Aschbach, according to documents located in the U.S. National Archives in Washington.
Gurlitt had worked closely with the Nazi regime in the 1930s to sell art it considered 'degenerate' to fill its war coffers.
American investigators at the time expressed doubts about Gurlitt's claims to the works, but they eventually decided that in most cases he was the rightful owner.
So on December 15, 1950, the U.S. returned 206 items to him: 115 paintings, 19 drawings and 72 'various other objects'.
At least three of the artworks documented by the Americans have now resurfaced, found hidden in the Munich apartment of Gurlitt's son, 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, during a tax evasion probe that German prosecutors announced earlier this week.
The three paintings that the Americans returned to Cornelius' father in 1950 and which have turned up in the Munich trove are Max Liebermann's Two Riders On The Beach; Otto Dix's self-portrait and an allegorical painting by Marc Chagall.
Also found in the son's apartment were paintings, drawings, engravings, woodcuts and prints by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Oskar Kokoschka, and leading German artists Dix, Liebermann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner."