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Looted Holocaust-Era Paintings In France Returned To Jewish Families

Holocaust Era Looted Art

THOMAS ADAMSON   02/14/13 03:22 PM ET EST  AP

PARIS — France is returning seven paintings taken from their Jewish owners during World War II, part of an ongoing effort to give back hundreds of looted artworks that still hang in the Louvre and other museums.

The works were stolen or sold under duress up to seven decades ago as their Jewish owners fled Nazi-occupied Europe. All seven were destined for display in the art gallery Adolf Hitler wanted to build in his birthplace of Linz, Austria, according to a catalog for the planned museum.

At the end of the war, with Hitler dead and European cities rebuilding, artworks were left "unclaimed" and many thousands that were thought to have been French-owned found their ways into the country's top museums.

The move to return the seven paintings ends years of struggle for the two families, whose claims were validated by the French government last year after years of researching the fates of the works.

"This is incredibly rare. It's the largest number of paintings we've been able to back to Jewish families in over a decade," said Bruno Saunier of the National Museums Agency.

Many of the 100,000 possessions looted, stolen or appropriated between 1940-44 in France have been returned to Jewish families, but Saunier said the country has increased its efforts in the past five years to locate the rightful owners of what the French government says are some 2,000 artworks still in state institutions.

Archiving errors and the challenge of identifying the paintings have made it slow going.

As anti-Semitism gripped Europe, many Jewish families sold their belongings or simply fled, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of empty homes and valuables up for grabs for individuals or the state.

Six of the paintings – among them works by Alessandro Longhi, Sebastiano Ricci and Gaspare Diziani – were owned by Richard Neumann, an Austrian Jew whose ticket out of France was his art collection, which he sold off at a fraction of its value.

It is not clear to whom Neumann sold them, and the route they took to show up in French museums is unclear. They found places at the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art of Saint-Etienne, the Agen Fine Arts Museum and the Tours Fine Art Museum.

Neumann's grandson, Tom Selldorff, was a young boy in 1930s Vienna when he last saw his grandfather's collection. At 82, the U.S. resident is going to get them back and wants to pass a piece of his Austrian grandfather's heritage down to his children.

"Tom is 82 years old... So time is important; they need to act quickly," said Muriel de Bastier, Art Chief of the Spoliation Victim's Compensation Commission, a French government body that helps families all over the world get back their stolen work.

The other painting, "The Halt" by Dutch painter Pieter Jansz Van Asch, was stolen by the Gestapo in Prague in 1939 from a Jewish banker, Josef Wiener, who was later deported and died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

After the war, the painting was confused with a work owned by a Frenchman and erroneously sent to Paris, so Wiener's widow's efforts to locate the painting in Germany were fruitless.

For years it hung in the Louvre, until the family finally tracked it down online in the mid-2000s. After problems identifying the painting were cleared up, then-French Prime Minister Francois Fillon gave the family the green light to give it back last year.

Other Jewish owned property was "legally" appropriated by the state itself. Some 100,000 houses were seized and sold to non-Jews between 1940 and 1944, as the Vichy government copied the Nazi's anti-Semitic policy of "Aryanization" – of displacing Jews from society. The French state then pocketed the money.

A national exhibit at Paris' Shoah Memorial confronts the issue for the first time, tracing the 1941 creation of a commission that enforced the seizures – often with the help of volunteers, coldly called "administrators." They exercised full rights over the property of Jewish families.

All around the country, billboards, posters and classified ads in newspapers popped up calling on the public to buy the stolen property.

The exhibit features one which reads "For Sale: Beautiful bourgeois home," or another in bold writing: "Sale of Jewish property... Belonging to (an) Israelite."

The exhibit's curator, Tal Bruttman, said this is the only time in history where the state actually called on the whole nation to take part in anti-Semitism.

"It's a crucial story that's not been told before," Bruttmann said. The exhibit runs until Sept. 21.

_____

Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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  • The United States: February 1988

    18 paintings including two by Fra Angelico, were stolen from New York art dealer Colnaghi's. The thieves broke in through a skylight, a manourve that could have gone very wrong, sending the thieves flying down the stairwell. Once inside, the thieves trod on canvases and failed to choose the most valuable paintings, but still made off with enough to be worth $6 million. Only 14 of the works were recovered. PICTURE: <a href="Credit: Fra Angelico [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" target="_hplink">Wikimedia </a>

  • Mexico: December 1985

    140 objects, including Maya and Aztec Gold, Mixtec and Zapotec sculptures, were stolen from Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology on Christmas Eve 1985. The alarms had not been working for three years, thieves simply removed the glass from the cases. PICTURE: <a href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aztec_ear_flares,_Art_Institute.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikimedia</a>

  • The United Kingdom 2003

    Not all art thieves are financially motivated. Thieves who stole Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape from the Whitworth gallery in Manchester hid the works behind a public toilet. A note pinned to the tube said they stole the paintings to highlight security gaps at the gallery. How public spirited of them. IMAGE: <a href="http://uploads4.wikipaintings.org/images/vincent-van-gogh/fortifications-of-paris-with-houses-1887(1).jpg!Large.jpg < wikipaintings" target="_hplink">Wikipaintings</a>

  • The United Kingdom: August 1961

    A rich American collector, Charles Wrightsman, bought Goya's Portrait of the Duke of Wellington and planned to take it to America with him. Due to public outrage, the government matched the sum ($392,000) and it was hung in the National Gallery. It was stolen three weeks later, and the thief demanded a ransom, which was not granted. The Duke was later deposited in the left-luggage office of New Street station in Birmingham. A 61-year-old retired truck driver confessed to the theft. IMAGE:<a href="Credit: Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" target="_hplink"> Wikimedia Commons</a> <strong>UPDATE:</strong> A previous version of this slide incorrectly stated that the artwork was still at large, when in fact the painting has been restored. We apologize for the error.

  • The United Kingdom, 2003

    Thieves overpowered the guide and chucked the painting the Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo Da Vinci out of the window, telling tourists "Don't worry love, we're the police. This is just practice". The painting was found at the offices of one of Scotland's most successful law firms. Several solicitors were arrested, some of whom were said to be scrutinizing a contract which would have allowed 'legal repatriation' of the painting. The painting was recovered and returned to the Buccleugh family. IMAGE: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leonardo_da_vinci,_madonna_dei_fusi_di_Drumlarimng_castle,_lost.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikipedia</a>

  • 2010 France

    A masked thief dressed in black stole five paintings from Paris's Musee d'Art Moderne, including Pablo Picasso's Le Pigeon aux Petits-Pois and La Pastorale by Henri Matisse. Collectively the paintings are worth about €100m. The CCTV system had failed, the intruder had trigged no alarms and the night watchmen hadn't noticed the break in until it was too late. The CCTV had been reported as broken, but hadn't been fixed adequately. IMAGE:<a href="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/63/Picasso_-_Le_pigeon_aux_petits_pois_1911.jpg" target="_hplink"> Wikimedia Commons</a>

  • Sweden: December 2000

    Thieves seized a Rembrandt self portrait and two Renoir paintings from the National Museum in Stockholm. One thief threatened an unarmed guard with a submachine gun while the other two grabbed paintings. They scattered nails on the floor to slow down pursuit and got away on a motorboat. The thieves went on to request $10 million per painting in ransoms through a lawyer who was then arrested in connection with the robbery. The paintings are still missing. IMAGE: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrant_Self-Portrait,_1660.jpg" target="_hplink">Wikipedia</a>

  • The United States: March 1990

    Thieves made off with $300 million worth of art works, including The Concert by Vermeer and works by Rembrandt and Manet. Two men in police uniforms turned up at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner museum claiming to be responding to a disturbance. Once let in, guards were handcuffed and locked in a cellar while the thieves went to work. Attempts to recover the paintings - for a $5 million reward - failed.

  • France 1911

    The most audacious art theft of all time, Vincenzo Peruggia, an employee of the Lourve, walked out of work one day with the Mona Lisa under his coat. The theft remained undiscovered for most of the next day, as workers thought it was being photographed. Peruggia believed the Italian painting should be in Italy, and two years later tried to sell it to the Uffizi in Florence. IMAGE: PA

  • Oslo, Norway: August 2004

    The Scream is one of the most stolen paintings of all time, made worse because there are four different versions. Most recently, it was stolen from the Munch museum in Oslo, where it was uninsured because curators felt the painting was 'priceless'. There were no demands for ransom but the painting was recovered 2 years later. IMAGE: PA

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