Germany's culture minister Wednesday called on the nation's museums to ensure they are not housing any art looted by the Nazis.

The call from German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters' comes after the heirs of a Jewish art dealer and collector launched legal action over the southern state of Bavaria's refusal to turn over works of art allegedly seized and sold by the Nazis.

The heirs of Alfred Flechtheim, who fled Germany shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933, claimed in a New York court early in December that Bavaria had not met international commitments on the restitution of art taken during the Third Reich.

The culture minister called on museums to make use of a special process established in Germany for mediating in disputes about the ownership of works of art.

"Otherwise," she said, "it leaves the devastating impression that you want to keep something that is not rightfully yours."

Gruetters told dpa this "damages Germany's image in the eyes of the Jewish world community."

She went on to call on the authorities in the nation's 16 states to follow the lead of federal museums, which are morally obliged to provide information on the works of art that they hold.  

Flechtheim's heirs have been negotiating with the Bavarian authorities for seven years for the return of 8 paintings by modern masters - Max Beckmann, Juan Gris and Paul Klee.

"What turns out to be a theft must be returned," said Gruetters. "There is no doubt about that at all."

After building up an art business in the 1920's promoting contemporary artists, Flechtheim fled to Paris in 1934 after facing Nazi harassment.

His galleries and business were later Aryanized by the Nazis and his private art collection was seized. He died in London in 1937.

Bavaria has rejected the Flechtheim family's claims that the paintings at the centre of the court case were looted art, saying that Flechtheim sold the works before the Nazis came to power.

But Flechtheim's heirs allege that the paintings were acquired by Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of a handful of dealers allowed to trade in modern art in Nazi Germany.

Gurlitt was also tasked with selling art stolen from Jews or works that had been confiscated after being denounced by Hitler's art functionaries.

Revelations three years ago that about 1,500 modern masterpieces pieced together by Gurlitt had been stored and hidden away in a Munich apartment by his son, Cornelius, caused a sensation in Germany and sent shockwaves across the global art world.

An expert team has already established that about 100 of the paintings from Gurlitt's controversial collection are likely to have been looted by the Nazis.

The priceless Gurlitt collection is now to be handed over to the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern.

Latest news

Britain confident of deal as May set to trigger Brexit negotiations

Britain is confident of reaching a Brexit agreement, said the government Wednesday as Prime Minister Theresa May laid the final groundwork for launching the formal, two-year process of negotiations for Britain to leave the European Union.

PM says Croatia to be least affected by Brexit

Croatia will suffer the least consequences of Great Britain's exit from the EU, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Wednesday.

Afghanistan announces distribution of electronic ID cards

After years of delay and disputes, the Afghan government on Wednesday announced that it will soon be distributing electronic national ID cards.

EU blocks merger between Deutsche Boerse and London Stock Exchange

A merger between the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges has been blocked by the European Commission because of competition concerns, ending the third attempt in 17 years to unite the two financial enterprises.

Peruvian plane with 141 on board bursts into flames

A plane with 141 people on board went up in flames on Tuesday after crash landing at an airport in the central Peruvian town of Jauja, local media reported.

British PM May signs letter that will trigger Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May late Tuesday signed the letter which will trigger Britain's exit from the European Union, according to a photograph seen by dpa.

Fillon's wife under formal investigation in French probe

The wife of embattled French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon was Tuesday placed under formal investigation in a probe centring around her job as his parliamentary aide, a judicial source said.

Belgian artist fails to be recognized as ex-king Albert's daughter

Belgian artist Delphine Boel has failed in her legal attempt to be recognized as the daughter of former king Albert II, Belga news agency reported, citing one of the lawyers in the case.

London and Paris agree joint long-range missile project

Britain and France signed an agreement to develop a new generation of long-range missiles for their naval and air forces in London on Tuesday.

Man with suspect package at White House turns out to be false alarm

Authorities reopened space around the White House after a security alert was imposed in response to a suspicious man carrying a package outside the grounds of the presidential residence on Tuesday, the US Secret Service said.

Trump signs order rolling back Obama-era climate protections

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that looks to roll back many of his predecessor Barack Obama's environmental protections.

Amazon announces takeover of Middle East retailer

Internet retailer Amazon on Tuesday announced the purchase of, the largest shopping website in the Middle East, for an undisclosed amount.

Georgians can now travel visa-free in Schengen area

Georgian citizens can travel to most countries in the European Union without a visa starting Tuesday.

Scottish parliament back Sturgeon's plan for second independence vote

Scotland's devolved parliament voted in favour of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's plan to consult the British government on holding a second independence referendum on Tuesday.

Germany investigating suspected Turkish spying on Gulen supporters

German intelligence officials are investigating suspected large-scale espionage by Turkey targeting German-based followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, security sources told dpa on Tuesday.

Messi suspended for four Argentina World Cup qualifiers

Argentina striker Lionel Messi was suspended by FIFA on Tuesday for four World Cup qualifiers and fined 10,000 Swiss francs (10,160 dollars) for insulting a match official.

Shock, outrage after African students attacked near New Delhi

Indian authorities on Tuesday ordered an investigation into a mob attack on African students near New Delhi, an allegedly racially-motivated crime that has triggered shock and condemnation in the country.

Germany: Anis Amri could have been arrested ahead of truck attack

Berlin truck attacker Anis Amri could have been arrested before he carried out a truck attack in Berlin on December 19, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.