Germany to restitute two Nazi-looted paintings

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 Argentinean businessman Roberto Graetz, 60, the sole heir of Jewish textile manufacturer and art collector Robert Graetz, who was killed in Auschwitz.

German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann on Nov. 19 announced the decision 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 press agency dpa.

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

Graetz’ nephew and sole heir reportedly had fought for ten years for the return of the paintings, which are worth an estimated $4 million. They are currently on loan to the Neue Nationalgalerie, one of Berlin’s premier modern art museums. It is expected that talks will be held with the Argentinean heir and the Prussian Foundation 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. All they knew was that Graetz still owned them in 1938 and that 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.”