The German government announced on Tuesday
that two 18th century paintings – sold by a Jewish art collector to the Nazis –
will not be returned to the heir of the collector.
The announcement by
the Finance Ministry echoed a November statement to the same effect, and it came
amid mounting international criticism of Germany’s handling of a separate art
restitution case in Munich. In that case, restitution advocates argue that
Germany bungled the handling of the discovery of 1,406 pieces of artwork in the
apartment of the son of a Nazi art dealer.
In yesterday’s statement, a
spokesman said the German government declined a request by the heir of Max Emden
to submit the case to the government’s Limbach Commission.
– the government’s formal arbiter for restitution of artwork seized by the Nazis
– is known formally as the German Advisory Commission for the Return of Cultural
Property Seized as a Result of Nazi Persecution, Especially Jewish
“Consistent with the Washington Principles from 1998 the two
paintings are not subject to restitution,” the spokesman said, referencing the
international agreement that dictated that countries should find “just and fair”
solutions to Nazi-looted artwork.
“As the legal situation is clear, there
is no need to go to the Limbach Commission,” the spokesman added.
the rise of the Nazis, Emden was a business tycoon.
He built a fortune by
introducing department stores to Germany, and he eventually owned 16 such
stores. He fled Germany in the 1930s for Switzerland, and watched as the Nazis
methodically seized each store, said Mel Urbach, a New York-based attorney
representing Emden’s grandson, Juan Carlos Emden.
As his wealth
evaporated, Emden sold three paintings by Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto below
market price in order to have money. The buyer was a front man for Hitler. By
the end of World War II, two of the paintings ended up in the custody of the
In 2005, the Emden family began asking the German
government for the paintings back. The Emden family in January proposed a
settlement in which one painting would be returned and the other kept by
Germany, according to documents filed with the government.
proposal was a last effort to allow Emden’s daughter-in-law, 99, to view one of
But the German authorities declined to accept the
settlement, and Emden’s daughterin- law died in April. On December 10, Urbach
wrote a letter to the government asking to bring the case in front of the
Unlike civil court, cases brought to the commission
require the consent of both parties.
Speaking from Chile on Tuesday,
Emden’s grandson, said Germany’s actions either display “ignorance or maybe the
intention of forgetting what really happened.”
“The only word I can find
is frustration,” Juan Carlos Emden said. “We are asking for so
The German government has repeatedly stated that since Max Emden
was living in Switzerland, and the artwork was sold in Switzerland, the
paintings do not represent “loot” or “loss of property because of
It justified its decision by pointing to a similar
determination by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Urbach said Germany’s determination runs contrary to a judgment made by the
In the commission’s first determination, in 2005, it
awarded artwork back to the heirs of a Jewish couple who had fled Germany for
After her husband died, Clara Fruend sold pieces of the
collection to a senior Nazi officer at a Swiss auction house.
decision, the commission sided with the Fruend heirs, saying that “the sale of
the pieces was necessary solely as a result of financial difficulties that were
exclusively due to National Socialist persecution.”
It rejected the
government’s claim that there was no connection between the persecution and the
Urbach said he will continue to “aggressively” pursue the
“It’s shameful for Germany to maintain a position to continue
ownership of paintings that were wrongfully confiscated,” he said.