An Austrian museum has uncovered some unpleasant surprises while cleaning out its cupboards.
The Salzburg Natural History Museum says it has found around a thousand books, hundreds of African hunting trophies and many animal specimens including the bones of ice-age mammoths, which were looted by its founder and director during the Nazi era.
Eduard Paul Tratz looted and confiscated across a broad sweep of Central and Eastern Europe, with churches, libraries and museums his main targets.
The “House of Nature” Tiger exhibit at Salzburg’s natural history museum is a popular attraction with children.
But behind the exhibits that are fascinating youngsters are stored books, trophies and animal bones looted by the museum’s founder, Eduard Paul Tratz.
The museum’s head curator, Robert Lindner, led the research which uncovered the stolen objects.
He says the founder sought out scientific and historical objects to support his ideology of racial superiority.
“He was involved in the confiscation of Catholic organisations here in Salzburg and in the vicinity,” Mr Tratz said.
“He also was involved in the looting of organisations in the areas that were occupied by Nazi Germany and got objects from collections that were formerly owned by Jewish citizens. And he had no moral doubts whether this was OK or not. He just collected.”
Eduard Paul Tratz was an officer in Hitler’s notorious combat unit, the Waffen S-S, as well as a member of the Ahnenerbe – a Nazi research organisation.
Stephan Roth from the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance says his collecting was ideologically driven.
“Eduard Paul Tratz, he had a little bit of power, and it was in the interest of the Ahnenerbe to get people like him to get more information about the things they are interested in.
“It was a kind of historical and anthropological research institution of the SS, which was focussed on the superiority of the Arian race and they were empowered to involve or integrate institutions like the Haus der Natur in Salzburg and other institutions in the so-called German Reich.”
Many illegally-acquired objects were returned in the years immediately after the war.
But this latest discovery means that museums in Ukraine and Poland will now have animal samples and book collections restituted.
For the descendants of Alphonse and Clarissa Rothschild, a big collection of African hunting trophies is heading their way.
Robert Lindner says finding so many looted objects was unexpected.
“It wasn’t a total surprise but we weren’t 100 per cent sure so we had to check everything. The biggest surprise probably was that we found more cases than we expected.”
The museum says it’s not finished dealing with its Holocaust legacy.
It will mount an exhibition about its history later this year and says it wants to understand why its Nazi founder came back to his job as museum director after the war.