Nazi-looted artwork returned to Holocaust victim’s heirs

Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grünbaum was an Austrian-Jewish songwriter who openly mocked Hitler in his cabaret performances. He also had a fine collection of 450 artworks that included 81 paintings by expressionist master Egon Schiele.

But his art collection was looted by Nazi agents in 1938 and Grünbaum sent to Dachau concentration camp, where he died in 1941.

Now, heirs of Grünbaum have been awarded two of his Schiele paintings in a landmark ruling by a New York judge.

Justice Charles E. Ramos of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled that “Woman in a Black Pinafore” and “Woman Hiding her Face” are to be returned to Grünbaum’s heirs, including plaintiffs Timothy Reif and David Fraenkel, according to the summary judgment issued Wednesday.

The heirs sued after they discovered the two Schiele paintings in 2015 in a booth operated by Richard Nagy, a London-based art dealer, at the Salon Art + Design Show in New York.

Nagy claimed he had good title to the artworks stemming from Grünbaum’s sister-in-law, Mathilde Lukacs, who in 1956 sold 45 Schiele works to a gallery in Switzerland.

But Ramos ruled against him, citing the 2016 Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) act, which extends the statute of limitations in which a claim on Nazi-stolen art may be brought to six years from the time the claimants discover the artworks.

“Although defendants argue that the HEAR Act is inapplicable, this argument is absurd, as the act is intended to apply to cases precisely like this one, where Nazi-looted art is at issue,” Ramos wrote in his ruling. “Since plaintiffs discovered the Artworks in November of 2015, their action is timely under the HEAR Act.”

“Today, my family has regained a part of its history that was stolen by the Nazi Regime,” Reif said in a statement to CNN.

For all the heirs, this decision “brought us a step closer to recovering all of the culture that was stolen during the largest mass-theft in history which until now has been overshadowed by history’s largest mass murder,” their lawyer, Raymond Dowd, said in a statement to CNN.

Nagy’s lawyers in a statement to CNN said the acquisition and ownership of the artworks “has always been transparent and well documented.”

Ramos ruled that “New York protects the rightful owner’s property where that property had been stolen, even if the property is in the possession of a good faith purchaser.”