(JTA) — The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, urged a leading Spanish museum to return a painting that the Nazis stole from a Jewish art collector.
Lauder in a statement issued Friday called on the state-owned Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid to stop its legal fight to keep the Impressionist masterpiece “Rue Saint-Honoré, après-midi, effet de plui0e,” which was stolen from Lilly Cassirer, a German Jew seeking to flee her homeland in 1939.
The museum, which does not dispute that the painting was stolen, is fighting the lawsuit on technicalities, including international jurisdiction issues and time limitation on restitution claims.
Cassirer’s father-in-law, Julius, purchased the painting from the painter Camille Pissarro. Her late grandson, Claude, sued for restitution in 2005 in a claim he filed with a U.S. district court in California.
“The Spanish government and the museum have subjected the late Claude Cassirer and now his heirs to a decade of litigation largely on technical legal issues,” Lauder wrote. “We are calling on Spain to fulfill promptly their moral obligation to this family.”
Lauder also noted that “since 1988, Spain has been a party to three different declarations, signed by dozens of nations, committing it to return looted art or settle with victims’ families expeditiously.”
In 2000, Lilly’s grandson Claude discovered that the painting was on display in the museum, which houses the collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the nephew of Fritz Thyssen, one of the largest German industrialists in the Third Reich.
After being rebuffed in his efforts to have the painting returned, Claude Cassirer filed suit in 2005 against Spain and the museum. Since his death, his two children, together with the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, have continued the fight.