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Russia to Return Priceless German Stained Glass Windows - 2002-04-06

Russia has agreed to return more than 100 priceless stained glass windows to Germany. The windows are among many treasures looted in the final days of World War II by Red Army troops.

Germany's ambassador to Russia has praised the vote taken Friday in the lower house of Russia's Parliament or Duma to return the set of stained glass windows.

Ambassador Ernst Joerg von Studnitz told Russian reporters the move was a big step in resolving the issue of so-called "trophy art."

The collection of more than 100 stained glass windows was taken from the St. Marienkirche [Church of St. Mary] in Frankfurt-on-Oder, a town in eastern Germany near the border with Poland.*

The 14th-century windows have been stored since the end of the war in St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum, which put some of them on display recently.

The collection is to be handed back in September according to an agreement reached between Russia and Germany in January.

The return of precious art works has been a point of friction in relations between the two countries for a long time.

As the war in Europe was ending, Soviet troops carted off countless paintings, sculptures and other art.

Many Russians, especially those who lived through the war, consider the art a kind of reparation for the extensive devastation caused by the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

Among the best-known works taken from Berlin to Russia was the collection of gold jewelry originally from the ancient city of Troy in Turkey.

The looting of art went in both directions. Nazi soldiers also stole hundreds of thousands of artworks on their march eastward early in the war.

Among those works was an entire room made of precious amber from a palace near St. Petersburg.

Some works were returned in the past decade, in spite of opposition from nationalist and Communist politicians as well as many ordinary Russians.

More progress has been made on the issue in recent years under President Vladimir Putin, who spent many years in East Germany during his earlier career in the KGB.

The Duma decision to allow the windows to go back comes just as Mr. Putin is due to go to Germany next week to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

*This report was amended 8 April 2002 to add the name of the church and town.