A Berlin art historian is helping prosecutors investigate a trove of 1,500 artworks found in a Munich apartment and that may have been seized by the Nazis.

Berlin Free University said in an e-mailed statement today that Meike Hoffmann of its degenerate art research unit is helping identify the works. The German government said in a statement today that it was aware of the case.

The haul -- which would be worth an estimated 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) if found to be by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann and Marc Chagall -- was discovered in a squalid apartment, according to the German magazine Focus.

“The number of works is overwhelming,” Monika Tatzkow, a provenance researcher and author of several books on Nazi-looted art, said in an interview from Berlin today. If they are genuine, “it shows that a lot of time has to pass for some of this art to emerge from shady sources.”

The artworks, long thought to have been lost or destroyed, were uncovered by authorities probing money laundering after a random check on an elderly man traveling from Switzerland to Munich. The secret raid took place two years ago, according to Focus, which didn’t say how it obtained the information.

Expert Assistance

“The federal government is supporting the Augsburg prosecutors with experts in the field of so-called degenerate art,” German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a Berlin news conference today. “Of course we can’t comment on the investigation. The government has been kept informed of this case for several months now.”

The investigators unearthed the paintings, sketches and prints -- which were buried among outdated food packets and garbage -- two years ago in the apartment of a man reported to be the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a prominent art dealer in the 1930s and 1940s with ties to the Nazis, according to the Focus report.

Customs Comment

Customs authorities in Munich and prosecutors in the city of Augsburg declined to comment on the report, citing confidentiality rules. Augsburg prosecutors will release more details on the case tomorrow, their spokesman Matthias Nicola said.