New York Court Orders Return of $600,000 Book Stolen in WWII

Bloomberg 24 March 2009
By Catherine Hickley

A New York court ordered a book collector to return a 16th-century volume valued at $600,000 to a museum in Stuttgart, more than six decades after it was stolen by a U.S. army captain at the end of World War II.

The state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, owner of the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie’s collection, filed a claim for the “Augsburger Geschlechterbuch” after being notified by Sotheby’s that it had been offered for auction, according to the opinion from the District Court in the Southern District of New York.

“Baden-Wuerttemberg’s motion for summary judgment is granted in all respects,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa said in his conclusion, dated March 23.

The book is a bound volume of drawings and prints showing prominent families of Augsburg in different costumes and situations. It is one of several treasures lost by Stuttgart at the end of the war. The state of Baden-Wuerttemberg recovered other valuable books after they surfaced in the U.S. in 2005.

The collector, Rod Shene, had bought the book from a St. Louis dealer for $3,800 in 2001. He said Sotheby’s told him it could fetch as much as $600,000, the documents said.

Yet after Sotheby’s experts noticed that the book was stamped with the insignia of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, the company told the museum, which had believed the book was destroyed in fighting and fires at the end of World War II.

It had in fact been stolen by John Doty, a U.S. Army captain who was stationed in Waldenburg, where treasures from the museum were stored for safekeeping during the war, according to the court opinion. Doty, who died before the lawsuit, said he salvaged the book from a fire started by Allied soldiers. His family sold the book to the St. Louis dealer.

Return Request

The Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the owner of the Staatsgalerie’s collection, wrote a formal letter to Sotheby’s in August 2005 saying it was the rightful owner of the book and requesting its return, the court judgment said. Shene refused to relinquish it, so the ministry filed a court claim.

Dietrich Birk, Baden-Wuerttemberg’s State Secretary for Science, Research and the Arts, said he was “delighted” at the ruling. “I hope the return will happen soon,” he said.

The case is Sotheby’s Inc., v. Rod Shene et al, 04-CV-10067 in the U.S. States District Court, Southern District of New York.

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at
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