Austrian City to Return Looted Art

The Guardian 17 December 2002

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - An Austrian city has agreed to return a $10 million painting seized by the Nazis to the heirs of its original Jewish owner.

The 1916 ``View of Krumau'' by Austrian master Egon Schiele will likely be returned next year to the heirs of Daisy Hellman, who fled Austria after the Nazi occupation.

The work depicts a colorful village on the banks of a dark river. Since 1953 it has been in the possession of the New Gallery, a museum in Linz, about 100 miles west of Vienna.

``Morally, this return is justified,'' Linz Mayor Franz Dobusch said Tuesday in announcing the decision.

The museum, which purchased the painting without knowing it had been seized by the Nazis, was not legally bound to give the painting to Hellmann's heirs. But city officials said it was important to do so.

``I see the return as a necessary and logical way to come to terms with the past and ensure compensation'' for the victims, vice-mayor Reinhard Dyk was quoted as saying by the Austria Press Agency.

Vienna's Jewish community has been working with Hellmann's seven legal heirs for three years in their attempt to regain the work.

``This is a valuable painting and I understand it was hard for Linz to give it back,'' said community representative Erika Jakubovits. ``But there is a moral obligation - it was absolutely clear how it came to be their property.''

The painting was seized by the Gestapo after Hellmann fled. In 1942, it was sold by a Vienna auction house to a collector from Berlin, Wolfgang Gurlitt. He sold his collection to the city of Linz in 1953.

The Linz city council must approve the handover of the painting, but the vote in January is largely expected to be a formality.

Austria was annexed to Adolf Hitler's Germany in 1938. During the Third Reich, the Nazis confiscated and destroyed nearly all synagogues and other Jewish community property in Austria.
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