* Initial 25 works to be displayed on "Lost Art" website
* Goal is to help glean tips on provenance of works
* Most of $1.34bln hoard stolen from Jews under Nazi rule
(Adds detail from Sueddeutsche on Gurlitt)
By Erik Kirschbaum and Karen Freifeld
BERLIN/NEW YORK, Nov 12 Germany began publishing
an online list on Tuesday of works that were discovered in a
huge art stash in a Munich flat last year and believed for the
most part to have been stolen or extorted by the Nazis.
The move was welcomed by lawyers representing families whose
looted art was feared lost forever. But heavy demand for the
government's "Lost Art" website (www.lostart.de) led to
technical problems that made it difficult to gain access.
"No one was expecting such a storm of demand," said a
spokesman for the Culture Ministry. "The server was overwhelmed
by the massive demand. The only thing to do is wait."
At the same time, a German newspaper said one of its
reporters had spoken to the reclusive owner of the collection,
who had not been seen since the existence of the art works was
revealed last week.
A statement from the national and Bavarian regional
governments said 25 of the works would be displayed initially on
the "Lost Art" site, which helps to establish the provenance of
works seized by Germany's Nazi regime, mostly from Jews
persecuted during the Holocaust.
The government has been heavily criticised - notably by
families whose relatives were robbed by the Nazis - for keeping
silent for almost two years about the trove of 1,406 European
art works until a German magazine broke the story.
"It's too little, too late but at least it's a step in the
right direction now," said Claudia von Selle, an attorney in
Berlin specialising in art.
Defending their policy of silence, government officials said
they were worried about the security of the art works and the
related insurance, and that authorities were also conducting a
confidential tax fraud investigation into Cornelius Gurlitt, in
whose Munich apartment the art was found.
Works by Picasso, Chagall and Otto Dix were among those on
the government's website, according to German media.
'I WANT MY PAINTING BACK'
In the United States, a retired lawyer who has a claim on
one of the paintings, "Two Riders on the Beach" by Max
Liebermann, told Reuters that he hoped to be able to get back
the work, which belonged to his great uncle.
"I want my painting back, and soon," David Toren, 88, one of
the two heirs of David Friedmann, said in a telephone interview
on Tuesday. Friedmann was an industrialist from Breslau who
owned the painting from at least 1905 to 1939.
"We have been looking for that picture for years."
Toren, who lives in New York, said he can still picture the
painting that hung on the wall of his great uncle's villa before
the war. Toren used to watch his father play skat, a German card
game, in the next room.
Friedmann died in 1942. Toren escaped from Germany and spent
the war years in Sweden. His older brother reached the
Netherlands and now lives in London. Their parents perished at
The Liebermann painting was among the first art works posted
online from the Gurlitt stash.
Berlin lawyer Lothar Fremy said he had been searching for
the work for about five years on behalf of Friedmann's two
surviving relatives. Fremy said he filed a claim with German
authorities last week after the work was featured at the press
conference held about the cache.
"Legally it's very complicated," he said. But he urged the
authorities to work quickly, given that his clients, Toren and
his brother, are aged 88 and 92.
Markus Stoetzel, a lawyer representing the heirs of Alfred
Flechtheim, a Jewish art patron and collector who lost
everything to the Nazis, also welcomed the German move.
"Now more than ever it's time for Germany to do what it can
to give justice to families of the Jewish victims whose art
works were stolen by the Nazis from 1933 to 1945," he said.
The hoard is estimated to be worth up to 1 billion euros
($1.3 billion) and its legal status is likely to be contested.
Customs officials stumbled on it during a routine investigation
in Munich's smart Schwabing district in February 2012.
"The origins of the so-called 'Schwabing art trove' will be
traced as quickly and transparently as possible," the federal
and state governments said on Monday - over a week after news of
the find was reported by the Munich magazine Focus.
"To establish transparency and to further expedite research
into provenance, the first 25 works that are suspected to have
been taken under Nazi persecution will be displayed on the
www.lostart.de platform and that will be continuously updated."
The paintings, sketches and sculptures hoarded by the
war-era art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt, put in charge of selling
confiscated "degenerate" art by Hitler, were found in the
apartment of his 79-year-old son, Cornelius.
He told Germany's Sueddeutsche newspaper he had given
documents relating to the art collection to the authorities.
"I have handed everything over to the public prosecution
service," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
It said one of its journalists had met Gurlitt, who seemed
to have vanished after the case became public, outside his flat
in Munich, where he told her: "I am on the way to Wuerzburg to
go to the doctor's. But don't worry, I'll come back soon."
The government's coordination centre for lost art said on
the website that around 970 of the works were believed to have
been confiscated, stolen or looted by the Nazis.
Some legal experts say Gurlitt may get to keep the art, but
others say Germany could nullify his ownership. The governments
said they had set up a team of six experts to examine the
provenance of the works.
The federal government, which ordinarily leaves such cases
to regional justice officials, stepped up its involvement after
the United States asked it to publish a list of the art works.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Mark
Heinrich and Giles Elgood)