Three museums in Zagreb have returned artworks stolen from a Jewish businessman and given them to his grandson after court decisions resolved a 70-year-old dispute and paved the way for the first repatriation of Holocaust-era art in Croatia.
The works returned to heir Andy Reichsman this week include two paintings from the National Museum of Modern Art, “Still Life with a Bottle” by Andre Derain and “Landscape by the Water” by Maurice de Vlaminck, as well as lithographs by Pablo Picasso. and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Bonnard from the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
“This seems almost unbelievable,” Reichsmann said in a phone interview from Zagreb. “I thought our chances would be one in a million. They had no interest in giving anything back to the Jews.”
Croatia’s Jewish community was nearly wiped out in the Holocaust following the invasion of the Axis powers and the establishment of the fascist Autonomous State of Croatia in 1941 in parts of occupied Yugoslavia. Jews were expelled from their homes and forced to leave their possessions behind.
For decades, Croatia has rejected claims to artworks looted from Jews during the Holocaust. But in a major shift last year, the Croatian government teamed up with World Jewish Rights Restitution To publish a joint report which chronicles the thefts and lists some of the stolen collections, many of which are still held by Croatian museums.
Nina Oboljen Korzenic, Croatia’s Minister of Culture and Information, said at the time that the report showed that the government “shared a desire to provide a fair measure of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs.”
The head of the recovery organization, Gideon Taylor, welcomed the decisions to return the works to the Reichsmann. “This is a positive step in dealing with outstanding Holocaust-era restitution issues in Croatia,” he said in a statement.
Reichsmann’s grandfather, Dane Reichsmann, was a wealthy owner of a large department store in Zagreb before World War II. After the Gestapo imprisoned Reichsmann’s father, Franz Reichsmann, for two months in Vienna in 1938, he fled to the United States. His sister, Andy Richman’s aunt, left for London. (Franz Reichsmann dropped the N from his surname after fleeing to the United States.)
But Dane Reichsmann remained in Zagreb. He and his wife, Frieda Reichsmann, were deported to Auschwitz and killed. His art collection was seized by the fascist Eustache regime.
Danica Svoboda, Andy Richesman’s aunt, has tried for 50 years to recover the looted artwork.
“She would travel to Zagreb every summer and meet with gallery directors, government officials, and anyone she felt could help her in her attempts to recover art,” Reichsman said.
After her death more than 20 years ago, her nephew continued her quest. The Zagreb Municipal Court ruled in December 2020 that the artworks legitimately belonged to Svoboda; The second court decision, in 2021, declared Andy Reichsmann her heir.
Monja Matic, a Croatian lawyer who worked for Reichsmann for two decades, said she was “very happy that he had so much patience.”
In a statement on Facebook, the National Museum of Modern Art regretted that the process of returning the statue took three generations. She said that museums across Croatia, with support from the Ministry of Culture, are now “intensively working on provenance” of works of art when there is “justified suspicion that they were unjustly confiscated during World War II.”
Reichman also recovered a bronze plaque and a copper tray and bowl from a third museum, the Zagreb Museum of Arts and Crafts. His lawyer is seeking to recover 19 additional objects from the museum, including porcelain and a silver samovar.
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