THE FIRST RECOVERY JOURNEY OF KAROL ESTREICHER TO THE AMERICAN OCCUPATION ZONE IN GERMANY (Pierwsza podroz rewindykacyjna Karola Estraichera do amerykanskiej strefy okupacyjnej w Niemczech)
The article discusses the so-called first (13 November 1945 - 31 April 1946) recovery journey made by Karol Estreicher, an acclaimed Polish historian of art, to the American occupation zone in Germany. This venture was preceded by Estreicher's efforts aimed at reclaiming Polish cultural property during the WW II (i. a. a documentation of the losses, impact on the establishment of the Committee of the Protection and Restitution of Cultural Material, known as the Vaucher Committee), first in France (alongside Wladyslaw Sikorski) and then in England (where Estreicher was the head of the Restoration Commission of the Polish government-in-exile in London) as well as during an unprecedented mission conducted in the U.S.A. at the turn of 1942 (the Estreicher memorial). Initial Allied support for the Polish question radically changed due to the rapid advance of Soviet armies across Polish territory under Nazi occupation, and the arbitrary decisions made by the victorious Powers in Yalta and Potsdam. Estreicher's idée fixe, which involved a consistently realised conception of reclaiming works of art plundered by the Germans, together with proposed compensation for damaged works (the principle of substitute compensation), led to a decision to seek the support of the pro-communist Warsaw government, recognised by the Allies. Ultimately, K. Estreicher was granted the post of a representative of that government, and after several months of an extremely complicated mission he managed to organise, with the assistance of the American Monuments of Fine Arts and Archives, the first important transport of recovered cultural property from Germany to Poland, including such invaluable works as the altar by Wit Stwosz, the 'Lady with an Ermine' by Leonardo da Vinci, the 'Landscape with the Merciful Samaritan' by Rembrandt, the Behem Codex, canvases by Canaletto, and other monuments. Prior to the onset of a period later known as 'deep Stalinism' and the slow descent of the 'iron curtain' across our part of Europe, K. Estreicher was capable of making seven restitution voyages, making it possible for Poland to regain numerous valuable examples of her cultural property. His 'Dzienniki wypadków' (Journals of Events, three volumes dealing with 1939-1966), published twenty years after the death of their author by the Society of Friends of the Fine Arts in Cracow, and containing, i. a. original German documents, inaccessible for years, proved to be a valuable source for preparing this article.
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