Daily Israel Report

France: Stolen WWII Art Returned to Jewish Owners

Six paintings that fell into the hands of the Nazis after their Jewish owner was forced to sell have been returned to his grandson.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/20/2013, 4:43 AM

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Flash 90

Six paintings that fell into the hands of the Nazis after their Jewish industrialist owner was forced to sell in order to flee occupied Paris in 1941 were on Tuesday returned to his grandson, AFP reported.

The French culture ministry announced last month that the artworks would be returned to their respective owner.

In an emotional ceremony at the French culture ministry in Paris, Thomas Selldorff, 84, from near Boston said he was "very happy" to accept the 18th century German and Italian works which he last saw at his grandfather's Vienna home as a small child.

They were sold to raise funds for Richard Neumann's passage from Paris to Spain and Cuba.

"It's a great day for me. I have three children... and the paintings are going to stay in the family, in our respective homes," a visibly moved Selldorff said, speaking in French.

A seventh painting, "The Stop" by Dutch painter Pieter-Jansz van Asch (1603-1678) confiscated by the Nazis from Prague banker Josef Wiener, was also handed over.

A lawyer accepted the painting on behalf of the son of a friend of Wiener's wife. Wiener perished in the holocaust.

Selldorff's grandfather owned over 200 works of art before the war, but was forced to leave part of his collection behind when he fled Austria when it was annexed by the Nazis in 1938, and later sold others in Paris.

The Nazis had planned to transfer the paintings to a museum that Adolf Hitler envisaged opening in the Austrian town of Linz.

After the end of the war, however, they were placed in museums around France, three of them in the Louvre.

On Monday, France vowed to step up efforts to return works of art stolen from Jews by the Nazis to the families of their rightful owners, AFP reported.

An estimated 2,000 works of art are currently held in trust by France's state museums pending identification of their owners.

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti said France would be taking a more active approach to identifying the rightful owners.

"Until now we have waited for inheritors or relatives to trigger research procedures," Filippetti said. "I want to introduce a more proactive approach under which France will seek the owners whether or not a formal request has been made."

Last year, a 500-year-old painting auctioned by the French government during the Nazi occupation in World War II was returned to a Jewish family who proved it was sold illegally.

The 16th century Baroque painting was returned to representatives of the family of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe.

Gentilli died in 1940 shortly before the Nazis occupied France. The Vichy government sold the painting, but the sale was deemed illegal.

In November, the grandson of a wealthy Jewish businessman demanded that a Swiss foundation return a Monet masterpiece that the family was forced to sell for a fraction of its value when they were forced to flee Europe during World War II.