Wednesday, January 27th | 14 Shevat 5781

January 4, 2021 4:42 pm

Charity for Blind Ends Decades-Long Quest for Paintings Stolen by Nazis

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

Detail of ‘Early spring in Vienna forest’, by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A British charity for the blind has acquired three paintings seized from a Jewish family under the Nuremberg Laws, after a decades-long effort, reported The Times.

Irma Lowenstein, who later remarried as Irma Austin, fled from Austria to the United Kingdom in 1938 and began a lifetime effort to reclaim possessions confiscated by the Nazi regime — including three valuable works by the 18th-century painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. 

When she died in 1976, she left her estate to the Greater London Fund for the Blind, since renamed the Vision Foundation. After being made aware of the family’s claim to the paintings in 2018, the charity has now acquired them for an estimated total sum of over $700,000. 

Austin’s efforts were originally stymied by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, according to The Times, who claimed that the Soviet Union had vetoed transferring the artworks under its shared jurisdiction of postwar Vienna. 

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Under the so-called Washington Principles, signed in 1998, 44 countries have pledged to make efforts to return paintings looted during the war. The Nazis stole as many as 600,000 paintings, with 100,000 still missing, according to a 2018 New York Times interview with the expert Stuart E. Eizenstat. At the time, he noted that Hungary, Poland, Spain, Russia and Italy had been particularly slow or unwilling to help.  

The law firm Charles Russell Speechlys assisted in acquiring the Waldmüller works.

“After everything Irma Austin must have gone through in her life, it is truly remarkable that almost 50 years since her death she is still supporting a cause that appears to have meant so much to her during her life,” said Rudy Capildeo, a partner at the firm, to The Times.

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