Looted art in Czech museum needs home


PRAGUE, Sept. 17 (JTA) — Prague’s Jewish Museum has opened an art exhibition in the hope that its contents will be reunited with the original owners or their heirs.

“Restituted Works of Art — The Collection of Dr. Emil Freund” features 30 of the 61 works returned to the museum last year under the terms of a Czech restitution law designed to “mitigate certain injustices concerning the property of Holocaust victims.”

Several art collections, featuring hundreds of works, have already been returned to private hands since the Czech restitution law was introduced last year, but no one has yet made a claim on the art being held by the museum.

The focus of the exhibition in the Robert Guttman Gallery is part of a collection amassed by Czech insurance company director Emil Freund, who died in the Lodz Ghetto in 1942 after the Nazis confiscated his property.

Repeated attempts by the Jewish Museum to find Freund’s heirs have failed, according to Michaela Hajkova, the museum’s curator of paintings, drawings and graphic art.

“We have been trying to trace Freund’s sisters without success,” she said. “It seems that one of them died in 1982 in Chicago, and we are continuing to search for any children or grandchildren.”

The collection includes works by Czech artist Vaclav Spadla and French artist Maurice Utrillo.

The bulk of Freund’s collection was saved after being incorporated into the wartime Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The paintings, however, were confiscated again in 1950 by the Communist regime and left in the vaults of Prague’s national gallery until its recent release.

Jewish Museum Director Leo Pavlat said the exhibition, which will run until the beginning of January of 2002, was a “symbol of the beginning of restitution” in the Czech Republic.

“The exhibition is important for several reasons,” he told JTA. “We want to show that we are ready to give up those things which were once in someone else’s hands and today are in ours.”

Pavlat said the museum would gladly return any of the pictures if people could substantiate their claims to the works.

In the case of the Jewish Museum, restitution only applies to objects held by the Central Jewish Museum between 1942 and 1945 after being confiscated from owners who were deported from the Prague area to the ghettos at Lodz and Terezin.

Further details on the items and how to make a restitution claim can be found at www.jewishmuseum.cz or www.restitution-art.cz.

Recommended from JTA