Today New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) Superintendent Adrienne A. Harris announced that the National Gallery Prague returned to the heirs of Johann Bloch the paintings Landscape with a bushy tree (1817) by Antonin Mánes; Portrait of a young man in Polish dress; and two pendant Landscapes with sea bay by a late 18th century Northern Italian artist. The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague has returned ten 18th century chasubles, which were all lost as a result of Nazi persecution.
"Today’s restitution is an important achievement in our mission to provide justice for Holocaust victims, survivors, and their heirs," said Superintendent of Financial Services Adrienne A. Harris."As we continue to make every effort to seek justice for those who were victimized due to Nazi persecution, New York State will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to help Holocaust survivors and their heirs recover what is rightfully theirs."
“We are deeply grateful to the National Gallery Prague, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, the Documentation Centre and the the Holocaust Claims Processing Office (HCPO), especially Rebecca Friedman, for working together to facilitate the return of the family’s lost cultural objects,” said the Bloch Heirs. “Not only has this cooperation resulted in the restitution of pieces from our family’s stolen art collection, but it has brought members of the Bloch family together while bringing our shared history into focus.”
Johann Bloch (1869 – 1940) was co-owner of his family’s Brno leather factory and a shareholder in a rubber goods company. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the family factory was Aryanized and by September 1939, Bloch’s Brno villa was under the control of a government appointed custodian. In 1939, Bloch sought permission to export his collection to England. The Ministry of Education and National Enlightenment requested that his collection be more thoroughly examined. On March 20, 1940, the National Gallery recommended Bloch be granted permission to export his collection on the condition that he donate the four paintings to the museum. Less than a year after Bloch’s death in 1940, his widow was forced to sell the couple’s houses. She was deported to the Terezin Concentration Camp in 1942 and then to Riga, where she perished.
Johann Bloch’s eclectic collection also included a small collection of 18th century French, German and Italian religious vestments and dalmatics, which he gifted to his daughter Hermine Getrud Fleischner in 1930. In late 1938, Fleischner, suspecting war was on the horizon, prepared to leave Czechoslovakia, and deposited the vestments at the Museum of Decorative of Arts Prague for safekeeping in 1939 prior to fleeing for the United Kingdom.
With the invaluable assistance of the Documentation Centre for Property Transfers of the Cultural Assets of WWII Victims in Prague, Czech Republic, the HCPO was able to confirm that the Bloch paintings were part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery Prague and that the 10 chasubles were still in the collection of the Museum for Decorative Arts. Negotiations with these institutions for the restitution of these cultural objects swiftly ensued resulting in today’s return.
The HCPO is a unit of the New York State Department of Financial Services. It was created in 1997 to help Holocaust victims and their heirs recover: assets deposited in banks; unpaid proceeds of insurance policies issued by European insurers; and artworks that were lost, looted or sold under duress. The HCPO does not charge claimants for its services. To date, the HCPO has responded to thousands inquires and received claims from 46 states and 39 countries. The office has helped secure over $183 million in offers for bank, insurance, and other losses. The office facilitated settlements involving 228 cultural objects.