Nazi-Stolen Art Returned to Owner's Heirs

AP 18 April 2003


PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) - Authorities are returning 135 art works by European masters to the heirs of a Czech Jew whose collection was stolen by the Nazis, a museum said Thursday.

Arthur Feldmann was working as an attorney in Brno, 125 miles southeast of Prague, when he was arrested shortly after the 1939 Nazi invasion of what was then Czechoslovakia. There is no record that he was charged with any crime. Documents from that time say he died in March 1941 from unspecified health damage he suffered during his six-week prison stay. Feldmann had sold much of his collection of more than 700 drawings in 1933, including works attributed to Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt. But the rest of the collection was confiscated and the 135 drawings by Dutch, Italian and Germany artists were placed in the Moravian Gallery in Brno after the war. On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Moravian Gallery said the museum turned over the drawings last month to Anne Webber of the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe.

The Commission is awaiting a license to export the works, still in the Czech Republic, to heirs in Israel who wish to remain anonymous, said the spokeswoman, Andrea Polackova. Feldmann's wife was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in January 1942 and later perished at the Auschwitz death camp. But his two sons managed to leave the country. Feldmann's son claimed the drawings in 1960, but his claim was rejected by the former Communist regime for unspecified reasons. A new claim by Feldmann's grandson in 1995 was turned down because legislation at that time allowed only restitution of property confiscated after the 1948 Communist takeover. A new law, passed in 2000, allows for art stolen by the Nazis to be claimed by the original owners or their heirs.

Polackova said that the gallery hopes to purchase the collection's five most valuable drawings - works by Hans von Aachen, Anton Kern, Alessandro Casolani, Montalto and Johann Christoph Schuerer worth some $166,600. ``There are some indications they may be willing to sell,'' Polackova said.

Webber could not be reached in her London office on Thursday but culture ministry official Pavel Jirasek said that it appeared the ``negotiations will end successfully.'' ``We already got from Mrs. Webber a request for the export permit, and these five drawings are not included in it,'' he said.  Last year, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe made a claim for four drawings, also believed to be part of Feldmann's collection, displayed in the British Museum in London. The museum acknowledged the claim and is cooperating with the Commission ``to find the speediest possible solution,'' the Commission said in a statement in October.
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