Germany to restitute two Nazi-looted paintings


BERLIN (JTA) — Germany will return two paintings to the sole heir of a collector who was murdered by the Nazis.

Two paintings by the renowned Expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff — "Estate in Dangast" (1910) and "Self Portrait" (1920) — will be turned over to Argentinian businessman Roberto Graetz, 60, the nephew and sole heir of Jewish textile manufacturer and art collector Robert Graetz, who was killed in Auschwitz. Roberto Graetz reportedly had fought for 10 years for the return of the paintings, which are worth an estimated $4 million.

German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann announced the decision Nov. 19 by the so-called Limbach Commission to return the paintings "based on the overall situation, the persecution of Robert Graetz, and given the fact that there was no concrete evidence" opposing the claim that Graetz had lost his collection due to Nazi persecution, according to the German news agency dpa.

The Limbach Commission was established in 2003 to help resolve disputes over cultural inheritance.

The Schmidt-Rottluff  paintings are on loan currently to the Neue Nationalgalerie, one of Berlin’s premier modern art museums. Roberto Graetz and the Prussian Foundation are expected to hold talks to arrange for the works to remain at the museum.  

The state of Berlin reportedly had claimed that there was not enough evidence to prove the works had been stolen or confiscated by the Nazis. They said that Robert Graetz still owned the paintings in 1938 and they were sold at a gallery in 1953 for 3,500 German marks, or under $900. But researchers were unable to document what had happened to the paintings after 1938.

The fate of Graetz, however, is known. According to reports, he was forced to sell his home and belongings in 1938 and was deported to  Auschwitz in 1942, where he was killed.

His nephew told Bloomberg after the decision that "You cannot undo the past, but it is possible to achieve a little bit of justice."

Recommended from JTA