Painting returned to New York six decades after the Holocaust

Haaretz 8 May 2004

NEW YORK (AP) - A painting from the German home of a family that fled the Nazis was donated Friday to a Jewish history center in Manhattan, after claims experts tracked it down to a Berlin institution.

German painter Anselm Feuerbach's "Madchenkopf" - or Head of a Girl - now belongs to the Leo Baeck Institute, which in addition to housing an art collection, is a research and lecture center devoted to German Jewish history.

"The Fein family has waited 65 years for this day," Gov. George Pataki said as he unveiled the canvas with Fran Fredrick, a granddaughter of Sigmund and Erna Fein, who lived in Leipzig.

The market value of the canvas, which Feurbach painted in 1853 in Paris, is perhaps close to 20,000, "but it's priceless," Pataki said - not only as a family heirloom, but as it reflects the central role German Jews played in the cultural life of that nation.

The painting was located with the help from the state's Holocaust Claims Processing Office.

Sigmund Fein worked as a furrier in Leipzig, which became East Germany after the war, making it nearly impossible to trace lost property and belongings.

He was briefly interned at the Buchenwald camp in 1938, but was then released. The family made its way to the United States in 1941, just as the Nazis were rounding up more Jews, 6 million of whom perished in concentration camps. Sigmund Fein died in 1942 in the United States.

Fredrick, his granddaughter, found only a photo and description of the family painting. But that was enough for claims expert Bill Lee to research the work's provenance.

Lee found that "Madchenkopf" had been confiscated by the Nazis and sold to a Leipzig art dealer. The painting later appeared in a German woman's estate, which gave it to Berlin's Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, in New York, Fredrick filed the art claim in 2001, in the name of the five heirs of the Feins, including herself.

After about two years of work, including poring through museum archives and art catalogs, the painting was located at the Berlin foundation, which had not been aware of its history.

The story of this painting represents the far larger issue of recovering property and belongings left behind or confiscated as people fled the Nazis.

The claims office, which is helping survivors around the world recover their family property and assets, has accepted more than 4,700 claims from all over the United States and 37 countries.

The office has returned about 16 million in bank claims, almost 9 million in insurance claims and a total of 11 art claims.

In many cases, with few leads and many decades later, "it's like looking for a needle in a haystack," said claims office deputy director Monica Dugot.

Having located the Fein's painting, the office is now seeking another German artwork from the Fein home: Adolph Lier's "Hay Harvest."
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