Museums Increasingly Criticized for Failure to Return Stolen Nazi-Era Art

July 1, 2013 11:44 am 8 comments

George Grosz's Republican Automatons. Photo: Wikipedia.

15 Years after 44 nations including the United States signed the groundbreaking Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, museums are finally being faulted for their intransigent position on returning stolen art from the era.

Through legal and other tactics to block survivors or their heirs from pursuing claims, many museums have been able to hold on to their prized possessions despite clear proof contradicting their right to ownership.

“The response of museums has really been lamentable,” Jonathan Petropoulos, the former research director for art and cultural property for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets, told the New York Times. “It is now so daunting for an heir to go forward.”

Christine Anagnos, executive director of the museum directors association, said its members were committed “to resolving questions about the status of objects in their custody.” She told the Times that most cases are resolved through negotiation before claimants feel compelled to file suit.

Part of the problem is the murky nature of the process. The Times writes: “Critics, including the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and the Commission for Art Recovery, say problems arise in the less straightforward cases, where documentation is missing or it is unclear whether Jewish owners freely parted with a work of art or were coerced by the Nazi authorities into selling it for a pittance.”

For example, the complicated nature of claiming stolen art from a museum can be witnessed in the case of the heirs of German artist George Grosz.

In 2011 a federal judge dismissed the Groszes’ lawsuit, citing the statute of limitations (a tactic used by many museums). Before the case landed in court, the museum hired the former United States attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach (who died in 2012) to review their evidence. Katzenbach concluded that Grosz’s Jewish art dealer had fair title to the works and freely sold them. The Groszes’ own experts, though, declared that the dealer was forced to flee Germany after his gallery was “Aryanized” in 1933 and given to a Nazi Party member.

This interpretation was affirmed in April by a ruling from the German government’s advisory commission on plundered art in an unrelated case involving the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. While there is “an absence of concrete evidence,” the commission concluded that on balance, “it is to be assumed that the art dealer was forced to sell the disputed painting because he was persecuted.”

Margaret Doyle, a spokeswoman for MoMA, told the Times the museum has no interest in retaining works to which it does not have clear title. “After years of extensive research,” she said, “including numerous conversations with Grosz’s estate, it was evident that we did in fact have good title to the works by Grosz in our collection and therefore an obligation to the public to defend our ownership appropriately.”

But George Grosz’s son Martin, 83, points to a letter his father wrote in 1953 after seeing one of the works, “The Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse,” hanging at MoMA: “Modern Museum exhibits a painting stolen from me (I am powerless against that) they bought it from someone, who stole it.”

8 Comments

  • why didn’t you publicise what I wrote? I repeat:
    the museums of today continue to do what the european countries did in their former colonies, that is how they have in le Louvre and in the British museum all this wonderful antic art. so why should they feel obligated today to give back stolen art?
    nothing really changed, only that today there are families who claim their legal rights to these things.

  • The fact of life is what the NAZI ‘s stole many of their supporter are still enjoying today. Thus many Art galleries & private collectors enjoy stolen art with few qualms. Lets face it is a plunder that does not get returned to the lawful owners because the states condoned tha keeping of the plundered art.

  • when they conquered colonies, they stole shamelessly ancient art from Grece, Egypt, and many other countries. so why should they feel obliged to act different about stolen art in modern times?
    remember: western Europe was the most “enligted” civilisation.
    They have not learned anything and that is only one side of Europe’s decline.
    a spanish journalist wrote:”Europe died in Auzchwitz”
    How true!

  • The legacy of Nazi Germany continues. Germany will carry the burden of its love-affair with Adolf Hitler for a long, long time,

    SERVES ‘EM RIGHT!!!

    They shoulda shot him in the 1930′s! Heil Hitler, indeed!!!
    Germany’s stain will never fade away!

    EAT IT, Germany!!! YOU CREATED IT!

    • sorry to say … your wrong … starts much earlier, may be when MOSE cam down WITH THE TEN WORDS while the people where doing what they should NOT: DANCING AROUND THE GOLDEN CALFF AND PRAISING BAAL! Read Deuteronomium 28 and you will understand what happend throughout history … and will TILL MESSIAH COMES BACK … which might be the case sooner than you might think! BARUCH HABA BESCHEM ADONAI! SHALOM

  • Straightshooter

    This is a question of the museums’ absence of integrity and the lack of shame they feel for acquiring looted and illegally acquired works of art. It is disingenuous to claim, as in the case of MoMA, that they have “good title to the works by Grosz in our collection and therefore an obligation to the public to defend our ownership appropriately.” MoMA’s and other museums’ obligation is to do the right thing and to right the wrongs they have collaborated in and perpetuated all these years -that is their obligation to the public. Theft is theft, and they are known by the company they keep. It’s time for the public to boycott and shame museums that act immorally.

  • If all the museums gave up all their stolen art what would be left are empty walls. Sad.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.