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Boutique San Francisco Law Firm Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller at Center of Returning Looted Nazi Art; Firm's Investigation Leads to Unprecedented Alliance with German Institutions

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PR Newswire 9 March 2017
Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller Press Release

Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller Team Forge Historic Initiative to Locate Stolen Mosse Art Collection

SAN FRANCISCO, March 9, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- In an unprecedented alliance, German public institutions for the first time have agreed to work with the heirs of art looted by the Nazi regime to identify and locate the stolen artwork -- a historic milestone brought about through the work of the Mosse Art Restitution Project, run by the Investigative Unit of San Francisco boutique law firm Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller (BZBM).

The Mosse Art Restoration Initiative (MARI), announced at a German press conference March 7, is a collaborative project hosted by Freie Universitadt and funded by the DZK (German Lost Art Foundation) and the Mosse Art Restitution Project. Other participants include the Kulturstiftung der Lander, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, the Foundation of the Jewish Museum Berlin, the Landesarchiv, and numerous other museums and institutions.

MARI represents a turning point in the international investigation led by BZBM into the art collection of Jewish newspaper publisher Rudolf Mosse that began in 2012. While the investigation has already resulted in restitution of a number of important artworks looted from the Mosse family by the Nazis in 1933, major German institutions are now committed to the success of the endeavor.  

"When approached by the Mosse Foundation to investigate the art collection of Rudolf Mosse that had been looted by the Nazis, BZBM set out to solve the problem —lost art — by setting out to find an effective path to finding and recovering it," said J. Eric Bartko, BZBM Director of Investigations. "The search for and restitution of Mosse art will enter a new stage with the unprecedented collaboration with German public institutions under the Mosse Art Research Initiative." 

Under MARI, provenance researchers at Freie Universitadt will access German archives in search of the thousands of Mosse-owned paintings, sculptures, arts and crafts, books and antiquities believed to be scattered in museums and private collections throughout Europe.

"In the course of the BZBM investigation, solid documentation of the initial looting by the National Socialists was uncovered, as well as evidence that key items in the collection had been 'plucked' by intimates of the National Socialists between the initial looting and later auction of the art, books and antiquities," Bartko said. "Up until now, establishing provenance for identified artworks was often complicated and difficult. Under MARI, with the full resources and cooperation of German institutions, the provenance investigation will enter a historic phase."

Bartko noted that MARI is a direct result of the approach taken with German authorities by the BZBM investigative team, which includes Charles "Chuck" La Bella, a former Deputy Chief of the Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice; Rob Bunzel, a principal at the firm; John J. Bartko and Martin I. Zankel. BZBM used sophisticated investigative tools and techniques to identify stolen Mosse art, but also chose not be critical of Germany's own recovery efforts.

"Rather than offering acrimony and recrimination with German institutions, BZBM presented restitution as an opportunity for reconciliation and the fostering of stronger German-American and German-Jewish relations moving forward," Bartko said. As a result, the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste DZK (German Lost Art Foundation, overseen by the German Federal Government) is funding and supporting the first-of-its-kind MARI partnership.

The alliance further benefited from Germany's voluntary agreement to sign onto the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, an international pact that established legal protocols to identify Nazi confiscated art and seek restitution for the rightful owners. Despite the pact being non-binding, Germany bound its public institutions to the principles through local legislation.

Rudolf Mosse (1843-1920) was a philanthropist and one of the most influential publishers of the Weimar Republic. He was an ardent critic of the rise of Adolf Hilter's National Socialist German Workers' Party.  Mosse was publisher of the Berliner Tageblatt, Deutsches Montagsblatt, Deutsches Reichsblatt, Berliner Morgenzeitung, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums, among other publications.

The Berliner Tageblatt in particular was sharply critical of Hitler's rise to power, and the Mosse family became a symbol of the hated "Jewish press." In 1933, just months after Hitler assumed the role of chancellor, then-publisher Hans Lachmann-Mosse, the son-in-law of Rudolf Mosse, and his wife Erna Felicia Lachmann-Mosse, were forced to leave Germany, fleeing first to France and eventually to the United States.

Under the direction of the National Socialist party, the Mosse Art Collection was then confiscated, as were the family's substantial real estate holdings and publishing house. Karl Haberstock, an early art advisor to Hitler, organized two auctions of the Mosse Art Collection and other valuable family goods in 1934. It was believed to be one of the earliest confiscations and forced auctions under the Third Reich.

The March 7 press conference took place at Landesvertretung Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Berlin. Panelists included:

English transcripts available on request.

BZBM is a boutique high-end law firm specializing in national and international complex litigation and investigations, as well as real estate transactions.

Members of the Mosse Art Restitution Project at BZBM are available to speak to the media. Contact Sam Singer (singer@singersf.com) or Kevin Keane kevin@singerssf.com) at Singer Associates (415-227-9700)

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