Nazi loot returned to heirs in landmark ruling

A Manhattan judge has awarded heirs of a Holocaust victim two looted artworks, citing the 2016 Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act.

Following the landmark ruling, ‘Woman Hiding Her Face’ and ‘Woman in a Black Pinafore’ by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele are to be given to the descendants of Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grunbaum, an Austrian Jew who died in the Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

The works were spotted at a New York art and design fair in 2015 at the booth of London-based dealer Richard Nagy.

Though Nagy’s lawyers argued the works had been properly transferred over the years, Justice Charles E. Ramos found the manner in which they initially left Grunbaum’s possession undermined his case. “A signature at gunpoint cannot lead to a valid conveyance,” Ramos said.

Grunbaum’s 449-piece art collection was confiscated by the Nazis when he was arrested in 1938.

Another attempt to win restitution for a Schiele drawing from Grunbaum’s collection failed in 2005, when the court ruled that too much time had passed since the heirs had made their claim. But since then, the HEAR act has extended the statue of limitations for making claims on Nazi-stolen art to six years after its “actual discovery”.

Raymond Dowd, lawyer for the Grunbaum heirs, hailed the decision as a victory for Holocaust victims, their families and all those who fought against the Nazis. In a statement he said: “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.”

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