Art experts have accused German authorities of a “cover-up” after research shows that they gave Nazi-looted art to the descendants of the high-ranking Nazis who looted it, rather than to its rightful Jewish owners.

The London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE), representing the family of the late Gottlieb and Mathilde Kraus of Vienna, said Old Masters paintings were sold for “paltry sums” to close friends of Hitler in what they describe as a “remarkable scandal”.

The art’s ultimate post-war destination was discovered by the Kraus family, who were trying to recover 160 looted paintings, and who had thought two of their family’s paintings would be in the state-owned museum in Munich, after records showed that they were handed over to Bavaria by the United States in 1952 for the purpose of restitution.

However, they now know that ten years later after the handover, the state of Bavaria instead gave ‘View of a Dutch Square’ by Jan van der Heyden to Henriette Hoffmann-von Schirach, the daughter of Hitler’s close friend and photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and wife of the notorious Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, who was found guilty at Nuremberg for deporting 60,000 Austrian Jews.

In 1963, a year after being buying the painting for what CLAE describe as the “paltry sum” of 300 Marks, Mrs Hoffmann-von Schirach sold it to the state museum for 16,100 Marks.

“It seems that Bavaria thought restitution meant restitution to the Nazis rather than to their victims,” said Anne Webber, CLAE co-chair.

Von Schirach’s family were among several high-ranking Nazi families lobbying for the retrieval of the art, some of it looted, and often negotiated directly with the director of the Bavarian State Museums and Bavarian ministers, CLAE said.

“While their demands were dealt with promptly and efficiently, with little requirement to prove their claims of ownership, the looted families had their claims thrown out, or impossible hurdles created to prevent them recovering their artworks,” said Webber.

The Kraus family had asked for an explanation of the post-war return-sales to Nazi families, but were told that there were only four surviving documents consisting of five pages in total, prompting CLAE to conduct its own research.

“There must be a full accounting of these shameful transactions with high-ranking Nazis and the way they have been hidden,” said the CLAE. “Without total transparency and accountability, the victims of the Nazi looting will continue to be denied long overdue justice.”