World War II orphan sues Germany for recovery of looted art
MOSCOW, March 7 (RAPSI, Ingrid Burke) – The great nephew of a holocaust survivor has turned to the US courts in hopes of compelling Germany to return a painting allegedly looted by Nazis.
Plaintiff David Toren, 88, asserts that the German authorities quietly discovered and seized a treasure trove of classic art in 2012 thought to exceed EUR 1 billion in total value.
“In February 2012, German law enforcement officers raided the small apartment of an 81-year-old recluse in Munich named Cornelius Gurlitt. From the apartment, Defendants seized over 1,400 classic works of art, including paintings and drawings by Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse,” according to the complaint, which Toren filed against Germany and the state of Bavaria in a US federal court.
Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand was known as the “art dealer to the Fuhrer,” having made his living by trading in art looted from those considered by the Nazis to be “undesirables,” the complaint asserts. Following Hitler’s defeat, Hildebrand allegedly “squirreled away” an art collection with a value exceeding EUR 1 billion.
Toren claims that Germany and Bavaria only unveiled the discovery when forced by a whistleblower to do so, nearly two years after the fact in November 2013.
Among the discoveries exhibited during the announcement was “Two Riders on the Beach,” a Max Liebermann oil painting that Toren claims was looted from the villa of his great uncle David Friedman.
As was the case with most members of Toren’s extended family, Friedman met a tragic end. The complaint asserts: “Friedmann died in 1942… By the end of World War II, Friedmann and his immediate family were dead and Friedmann’s entire art collection, including ‘Two Riders,’ was gone.”
In 1939, Toren was evacuated to Sweden as part of a coordinated initiative to save Jewish children from the Nazis. His family stayed behind. His parents died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz in 1943, and – with the exceptions of his brother and aunt – all remaining members of Toren’s extended family were killed by Nazi forces, according to the complaint.
After being raised as an orphan, Toren moved to the US with less than $100 in his pocket, and nothing more than a single photograph by way of heirlooms and memories of his home and family.
Toren eventually located a letter written by a Nazi official cataloguing the works of art discovered in Friedmann’s villa. The extensive list included Liebermann’s “Two Riders.”
The plaintiff asserts that Germany and Bavaria have admitted to knowing about the Gurlitt collection for nearly two years prior to revealing the discovery, and have expressed the intent to maintain control of the over 1,400 works of art until a valid determination of ownership.
Toren presented the Nazi letter cataloguing Friedmann’s collection as proof. The German and Bavarian authorities, however, were unsatisfied. According to the complaint, they denied Toren’s request without providing an adequate basis.
Toren seeks to recover the “Two Riders” painting and other works looted from Friedmann’s collection, and urges the court to require Germany and Bavaria to publish a comprehensive list of the works seized from Gurlitt, declaring: “Every day that Defendants deprive the rightful owners of possession of the Nazi-stolen works of art, they perpetuate the persecution of Nazi victims.”