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Ghost of Nazi era haunts huge collection July 10, 2004

German museum curators, who are ready to unveil a huge private art collection, are digging into the Nazi-linked past of a relative of the collector.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

As Berlin prepares to unveil one of the world's biggest private art collections, curators said Tuesday they had recruited historians to shed light on the controversial Nazi-linked past of its founder.

The collection of Friedrich Christian Flick, comprising some 2,500 works, is due to open in September. Berlin beat out other world capitals that had vied to host its first public exhibition.

But the event has faced fierce criticism already, especially from Jewish community leaders in Germany, who rail against showcasing a collection begun by Flick's grandfather, a notorious collaborator of the Third Reich.

Friedrich Flick was one of Adolf Hitler's biggest arms manufacturers and tied to SS chief Heinrich Himmler, and was sentenced to seven years in prison for crimes including using Nazi slave labor. He was released after three years and pardoned in 1951.

The younger Flick has been criticized for refusing to contribute to a slave labor fund set up by German industry and the government, although he has set up a fund to fight racism and xenophobia.

An earlier effort to display the collection in Zurich, Switzerland, near where Flick lives, at a museum to be specially built by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas never got off the ground. It, too, met with complaints from Jewish groups and Swiss cultural organizations.

One Jewish leader in Germany, vice president of the German Jewish central council Salomon Korn, has accused the German billionaire of seeking to ''whitewash'' his family name with the art show.

Research and debates about the family's World War II past are planned in conjunction with the show, which opens Sept. 22 at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum of contemporary art.

The Institute of Contemporary History in the southern Germany city of Munich has been named to lead the research into the World War II-era history of the Flick family, said Klaus Dieter Lehmann, head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which acquired the rights to display the collection.

Its researchers will have ''access to all the necessary archives'' and their work will be made public, said Lehmann.

A series of conferences and debates is also scheduled in tandem with the exhibition on the role and responsibilities of art patrons, as well as on the current polemic at the Berlin museum.

Friedrich Christian Flick inherited part of the collection, then worked to build it into one of the world's foremost modern art ensembles, with work from Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Francis Picabia, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Richard Serra, Bruce Naumann and Cindy Sherman, among others.

It is based around three trends represented by Duchamps and his search for a new definition of art, Picabia and conceptual art and Alberto Giacometti and his take on anonymity in the 20th century.

It assembles valuable photographs, from historic work by Walker Evans to the very trendy Jeff Wall.

Video artists including Nam June Paik and installation work by the like of Jeff Koons are also included.

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