Heirs of Curt Glaser react to decision of the Basel City Council denying the return of Nazi looted artworks

MMD Newswire 20 February 2008

New York:  The heirs of Curt Glaser reacted today to a decision by the Basel City Council not to return artworks sold in a May, 1933 auction by Curt Glaser after he was forced out of his position as Director of the Berlin State Art Library by the Nazis because he was Jewish. The decision follows a decision by the City of Hannover last year to return a Corinth painting lost by Glaser in another May 1933 auction held under similar circumstances.

The Hannover decision is a clear precedent which the Basel City Council chose ignore. Following the Nazis rise to power in January 1933, they started a program of harassment of Jews and intellectuals who opposed them such as Curt Glaser, Thomas Mann, George Grosz and others. In their early years in power, the Nazis staged book burnings, boycotts of Jewish business and detentions of their opponents in detention camps as a way of “cleansing” German society of its Nazi opposition. As a result approximately 35,000 of Germany’s elite intellectuals left Germany in the first few months of the Nazi regime.

Glaser, who was forced out of his apartment in the Prinz Albrecht Str. in Berlin to make way for the GESTAPO, who had decided to make the building its headquarters, was among was one of the early refugees who decided to leave Germany. It is thought that he was in fact warned that it was no longer safe for him to stay in Nazi Germany, since he had been singled out due to his prominent position as a Nazi opponent and leading intellectual figure in Germany.

Curt Glaser died in New York in 1943. Following WWII, his heirs filed claims in Germany for the loss of his art collection in the May, 1933 sales. The German claims office found that Glaser had lost his art collection due to Nazi persecution and awarded a small settlement to his widow Maria Glaser Ash. Under German restitution policies such awards are not an impediment to the return of the lost artworks, but should be paid back when the actual artworks are located and recovered.          
At the Washington Conference on Holocaust Looted Assets in 1998, 44 countries, including Switzerland agreed to return Nazi looted art to its former owners when such art was found to be located in their public museums. The Glaser heirs filed claims with the City of Basel in 2004 for the return of over 100 artworks which had been purchased by Basel in the May, 1933 auctions. Most of these artworks consisted of lithographs, water colors and drawings by such prominent artists as Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, Max Liebermann, Lovis Corinth, Max Slevogt, Honore Daumier, and Adolf Menzel. Glaser knew most of these artists personally and collected and wrote about their artworks.

Under the principles of the Washington Conference, its signatory members are obliged to review their collections for Nazi looted art and reach “fair and just” solutions with their prior owners or their heirs. The period covered by the Washington Conference is the entire duration of the Nazi regime which spans from January 30, 1933 to May 8, 1945. Sales of Jewish property in Nazi Germany during this time period are considered to be under duress, especially when such sales occured in facilitation of the sellers flight out of Germany in order to escape further persecution. Curt Glaser was forced out of his position as Director of the Berlin State Art Library due to a law enacted by the Nazis in April, 1933 which forbade Jews from holding German civil servant positions.

In denying the Glaser claims, the Basel City officials said that the Washington Conference did not apply to the Glaser claims and that the case differed from the case where Hannover returned a painting by Lovis Corinth to the Glaser heirs. However, in fact the cases are identical, except for a difference of one week with respect to the auction dates. In contrast to Basel, the City of Hannover found that the Glaser claims fell within the Nazi period and thus the Washington Conference was applicable.  It therefore applied the principles of the Washington Conference that a “just and fair” solution should be found,  in reaching its decision to return the Corinth painting.                              

Following the 1998 Washington Conference, the Basel Art Museums signed a declaration that they would adhere to the principles of the Washington Conference. The Basel decision thus flies in the face of the precedent of the Hannover decision and brings into question Basel’s commitment to the Washington Conference and its principles.

Rowland & Associates            Schink & Studzinski
New York, New York, USA      Berlin, Germany

For further information contact:

David J. Rowland, Esq.
Rowland & Associates
Two Park Ave., 19nth Floor
New York, N.Y.  10016

Tel. 212-685-5509
Fax  212-685-8862


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