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German Jewish organizations have demanded an apology from Liechtenstein’s prince for referring to Germany as the fourth Reich.

Prince Hans-Adam’s remark came in a letter made public Sept. 11 in which he refused to lend a painting to the Berlin Jewish Museum for an exhibit on the looting of art from Jews during the Nazi era. The Central Council of Jews in Germany and the museum have called for his apology.

The argument, however, apparently has less to do with art than with the prince’s anger at Germany for violating Liechtenstein’s bank privacy protection in chasing tax evaders. Hans-Adam said he would rather lend the painting, which the Nazis confiscated from Louis Baron von Rothschild, to any other country but Germany. Austria returned the work to the Rothschild heirs in 1988; the prince purchased it later at an auction. Writing to Jewish Museum director Werner Michael Blumenthal, Hans-Adam said, “We have survived three German Reichs in the past 200 years and I hope we will also survive a fourth one.” Sent in June, the letter was published last week by the Swiss Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.

Hans-Adam said he “gladly” would have lent the work, which had belonged to Louis Baron von Rothschild and was confiscated by the Nazis in Vienna, “were the exhibit not in Germany.” Reportedly the prince has tried in vain to recover works he claims were taken by the Nazis from his own family. But he also was angry at Germany’s investigation of Germans for allegedly using Lichtenstein as a tax shelter. Early in 2008, it was revealed that Germany’s intelligence services tested the limits of European Union law, procuring protected client data from Liechtenstein banks to go after German tax evaders.

Central Council vice president Salomon Korn said the prince may be justifiably angry, but his use of words was nevertheless regrettable. Korn told the Swiss paper that the remarks were “totally absurd,” and added that he expected the prince to apologize to Blumenthal, who fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1939.

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