Descendants of Holocaust victim win monumental Nazi-looted art case

Two Schiele paintings will be returned to the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum, a holocaust victim and broadway star of his time

NEW YORK, NY – Today, in a landmark decision by Justice Charles E. Ramos, the heirs of Holocaust victim Fritz Grunbaum were awarded title to two Nazi-looted artworks, Woman in a Black Pinafore and Woman Hiding her Face, by the artist Egon Schiele. The case, Reif vs. Nagy, has been winding its way through the courts since November 2015 when attorney Raymond Dowd requested the artworks be returned to Grunbaum’s heirs, including Timothy Reif,  after they were discovered in Mr. Nagy’s booth at the Salon Art + Design Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City.

“This is an important victory in what is probably the most important art case of the late 20th century,” said Attorney Raymond Dowd, partner at Dunnington, Bartholow, & Miller LLP. “It is a victory for Holocaust victims, their families, and all those who fought and died to undo the evils of Nazism. This decision brought us a step closer to recovering all of the culture that was stolen during the largest mass-theft in history which, until now, has been overshadowed by history’s largest mass-murder.”

Fritz Grünbaum, an Austrian-Jewish songwriter, director, actor, and master of ceremonies who openly mocked Hitler, performed musicals and plays for his fellow prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp until 1941, when he died penniless in captivity. His extensive collection, totaling 450 pieces, 80 of which were Schiele artworks, was looted in its entirety by Nazi agents in 1938. The two Schiele paintings in question have been housed in a fine art storage facility in Queens, NY since court proceedings began in 2015.

“Today, my family has regained a part of its history that was stolen by the Nazi Regime. We are overjoyed and thankful that Justice Ramos has helped us protect the legacy of Fritz Grunbaum, who was a performer of exceptional courage and talent, and realized the moral and legal importance of returning Nazi-looted art to its rightful heirs,” said Timothy Reif, executor and heir to the Grunbaum estate. “These paintings help us remember and honor the lives of those we love and help us preserve Jewish culture that the Nazi’s tried so hard to destroy.”

Despite defendant Richard Nagy’s best efforts to argue that the case fell outside of the statute of limitations that one can claim stolen art, and that the HEAR Act did not apply to this case, Judge Ramos adamantly disagreed. Justice Ramos explains in the decision, “Although defendants argue that the HEAR Act is inapplicable, this argument is absurd, as the act is intended to apply to cases precisely like this one, where Nazi-looted art is at issue. Since plaintiffs discovered the Artworks in November of 2015, their action is timely under the HEAR Act.”

Grunbaum’s art collection grabbed international headlines in 1998 when New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau seized Egon Schiele’s Dead City from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  The Morgenthau seizure made Grunbaum’s estate a cause celebre leading to changes in the way Austria and other European countries process claims involving art looted from Holocaust victims. Justice Ramos’ decision has ended a controversy that has raged since the 1998 Morgenthau seizure and provided justice for Holocaust victims and their heirs.

Full decision attached.

161799_2015_Timothy_Reif_et_al_v_Richard_Nagy_et_al_DECISION___ORDER_ON_288

 

Leopoldmuseum wants to restitute stolen artworks / Leopoldmuseum will restituieren

Charting a New Course | ARTnews.

“ . . . I think we should come to terms with history.” And, he adds, “Nowadays, I don’t think a museum can afford not to approach this in a proactive and positive manner. What I think sets me apart from many other people of the same positive approach is that I think the best way to deal with it is to talk and to come to a mutually positive conclusion…”

(Diethard Leopold, Son of Rudolf Leopold)

We are very happy about Diethard Leopolds will to return looted artworks and therefore want to be of help in his efforts.

We kindly remind the Leopold Museum Privatstiftung of the claim for restitution regarding the collection Fritz Grünbaum, unanswered since February 15, 2011:

2011 02 15 Claim Leopoldmuseum (German only)

[scribd id=106133836 key=key-27gtplnzeunjihu3t2ji mode=scroll]

For the 15 Drawings & paintings from the Collection Grünbaum find details  here

So, as stated by Diethard Leopold:

“. . . That’s why I say let’s get together and speak, …”

We are waiting for his reply!

Neujahrswünsche / New Year Wishes

Wir wünschen Ihnen ein schönes und erfolgreiches Neues Jahr !

Den Erben von Fritz Grünbaum wünschen wir, dass die zuständigen Stellen zumindest auf Schreiben antworten.

Die Leopold Museum Privatstiftung und Mag. Dr. Sonja Niederacher, Provenienzforschung bm:ukk-lmp im Leopold Museum im MQ ließen dieses Minimum an Hochachtung vermissen.

[scribd id=76780701 key=key-1en2uiq4oumq0s98ny0e mode=list] Unbeantwortete Schreiben an das Leopoldmuseum

[scribd id=76782735 key=key-1f87ievq6kjy3rfk3fav mode=list]Unbeantwortetes Schreiben an Mag. Dr. Niederacher

Weiters wünschen wir den Erbe, dass das Verfahren auf Restitution der beiden Werke Egon Schieles aus der Sammlung Fritz Günbaums die in der  Albertina nach einer Schenkung von Erich Lederer verwahrt werden, nach mehr als 12- jähriger Dauer positiv abgeschlossen wird.

We wish you a happy and successful New Year!

We wish to the heirs of Fritz Grunbaum that the competent authorities at least respond to letters.

The Leopold Museum Privatstiftung and Mag. Dr. Sonja Niederacher, provenanceresearcher at the Leopold Museum missed to show this modicum of respect for the heirs.

Furthermore we wish the heirs to get back the two paintings, which are deposed at the Albertina, after 12 years of formal procedure.

2010 09 07 New York Law Journal: 2nd Circuit Sends Art Ownership Dispute Back to the Drawing Board

Finden Sie die deutsche Übersetzung hier


Austria / Czech Republic / United States

Who really owns a drawing by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele?

Daniel Wise

New York Law Journal

September 07, 2010

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait 1914

The heirs of an art collector who perished in a Nazi concentration camp have been given another chance to establish their claim that a drawing by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele was stolen from their family.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled in Bakalar v. Vavra, 08-5119-cv, that Southern District Judge William H. Pauley erred in applying Swiss law as opposed to New York law in determining ownership of the work.

The panel’s ruling vacates Pauley’s finding that David Bakalar, an American art collector, became the rightful owner of “Woman Seated with Bent Left Leg (Torso)” when he bought the drawing from a New York gallery in 1963 for $4,300.

The New York gallery had acquired the black crayon and water-based paint drawing four months earlier from a Swiss gallery. In 2004, Bakalar sold the drawing at an auction conducted by Sotheby’s in London for $675,000.

Sotheby’s put the sale on hold after the heirs to Austrian art collector and cabaret performer Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grunbaum stepped forward to claim ownership of the piece. Grunbaum was arrested by the Nazis as he fled Vienna in 1938 and died at Dachau in 1941.

The two heirs, Czech citizen Milos Vavra and New York resident Leon Fischer, traded lawsuits with Bakalar in 2005, with both sides seeking to be declared the rightful owner.

In declaring Bakalar to be the owner, Judge Pauley applied Swiss law, under which Bakalar, as a good-faith buyer, would acquire title to the work after five years without a claim being asserted, even if the drawing had been stolen.

New York law on the issue is very different: under no circumstances can a thief pass good title and a person from whom property was stolen has a claim superior to a good faith purchaser.

Writing for the circuit, Judge Edward R. Korman, sitting by designation from the Eastern District of New York, concluded that Pauley had relied on the wrong test in choosing to apply Swiss law. The panel remanded the case to Pauley for further proceedings, and, “if necessary, a new trial.”

Korman also wrote a concurring opinion, questioning Pauley’s finding that the Grunbaum heirs failed to produce “any concrete evidence that the Nazis looted the drawing.”

Korman wrote that his reading of the record suggests to the contrary that Grunbaum was “divested of possession and title [of the drawing] against his will.”

Judges Jose A. Cabranes and Debra Ann Livingston joined in Judge Korman’s main ruling.

Provenance in Dispute

The question of whether the Schiele drawing was stolen by the Nazis is sharply disputed.

Bakalar contends Grunbaum’s sister-in-law sold the drawing along with 45 other Schiele works in 1956 to a Swiss art gallery, Galerie Gutekunst. That claim is backed up by documents in files maintained by the Swiss gallery, which show “beyond rational dispute” that the sister-in-law, Mathilde Lukacs, was the seller, said Bakalar’s lawyer, James A. Janowitz, of Pryor Cashman.

The lawyer for the heirs, Raymond Dowd of Dunnington, Barthlow & Miller, called Bakalar’s claims “a complete fabrication based upon forged documents.”

About four months after the Galerie Gutekunst acquired the drawing, it sold it to the Galerie St. Etienne in New York, which seven years later sold it to Mr. Bakalar.

Korman said Pauley should have considered which jurisdiction had the greatest interest in the case.

New York has a “compelling interest” preserving the integrity of its art market as its state Court of Appeals has stated on several occasions, Korman wrote. For instance, in Guggenheim Foundation v. Lubell, 77 N.Y.2d 311 (1991), former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler wrote for a unanimous Court, “New York enjoys a worldwide reputation as a preeminent cultural center. To place the burden of locating stolen artwork on the true owner…would, we believe, encourage illicit trafficking in stolen art.”

By comparison, Korman described the Swiss interest as being “tenuous.” Application of New York law might cause New Yorkers to take a closer look at the work’s provenance, and that in turn, he reasoned, “might adversely affect the extra-territorial sales of artwork by Swiss galleries.”

For choice of law purposes, that Swiss interest, he concluded, must give way to New York’s “significantly greater interest” in preventing the state “from becoming a marketplace for stolen goods.”

On the question of Bakalar’s ownership, Korman noted that the record indicated that Grunbaum was forced to execute a power of attorney giving his wife control of his artwork four months after he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned at Dachau.

Under Uniform Commercial Code §2-403(1), which has been adopted in New York, status as a good faith buyer only attaches if a transfer of property is “voluntary,” he wrote.

In Grunbaum’s case, the circumstances “strongly suggest he executed the power of attorney with a gun to his head,” Korman said. If that was so, he wrote, under New York law “any subsequent transfer was void.”

“[Mr.] Bakalar’s suggestion that the power of attorney constituted a voluntary entrustment to property to [Mr. Grunbaum’s] wife is a proposition that remains for him to prove.”

“Unless he does so,” Korman added, even if Grunbaum’s wife, Elizabeth, transferred ownership to her sister to prevent the work from falling into the hands of the Nazis “she could not convey valid title to the artwork.”

Letter from Ray Dowd to Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture

This letter was send by laywer Raymond Dowd to the director of the Bureau of the Commission for Provenance Research, OR Dr. Christoph Bazil

For the cited quotes, please read Second Circuit decision Bakalar vs. Vavra (english)

From: Raymond Dowd
Sent: Sunday, September 05, 2010 12:53 PM
To: ‘Bazil Christoph’
Subject: Second Circuit Decision in Bakalar v Vavra (Estate of Fritz Grunbaum)

Dear Christoph:   I hope that all is well with you and that you enjoyed your summer.  I think you will be pleased to see that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with the Grunbaum heirs in a decision issued on September 2, 2010.   Please note on page 21 of the opinion:

Grunbaum was arrested while attempting to flee from the Nazis.  After his arrest, he never again had physical possession of any of his artwork, including the Drawing.  The power of attorney, which he was forced to execute while in the Dachau concentration camp, divested him of his legal control over the Drawing.  Such an involuntary divestiture of possession and legal control rendered any subsequent transfer void.

The opinion notes that this is consistent with Austrian legal principles, including recent decisions of the Austrian Supreme Court.

We note that Article 26 of the Austrian State Treaty obligates Austria to return Fritz Grunbaum’s property to his heirs, as does Austrian inheritance law.  You have made me many promises that you and Minister Schmied were going to investigate this case and issue a report.  It has been 11 years of waiting.

We note that Eberhard Kornfeld invented a fairy story about Fritz Grunbaum’s sister in law in 1999 after Dead City was seized at MoMA.  Our handwriting experts debunked this story, which is based on clearly false and fraudulent documents.

But based on the new Second Circuit decision, it is clear that the whole story of Mathilde Lukacs is legally irrelevant.   Even if she did steal it and sell it in Switzerland, this has no effect on legal title of Fritz Grunbaum or his heirs.  Austrian law respects exactly this principle as well.

As a lawyer, you can now appreciate that Austria has no additional excuses for holding onto Fritz Grunbaum’s property. Now that this is all crystal clear, can you please have Austria return the stolen Schieles currently in the Leopold and Albertina Museums that the Grunbaum heirs have demanded?   There is no reason that the Austrian police can’t do this at your request.

You will see that the recent case decided August 12, 2010 of Cassirer v Kingdom of Spain has reaffirmed the right of US citizens to sue foreign governments in the United States for purchasing or displaying stolen artworks.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/35962710/Cassirer-vs-Kingdom-of-Spain-9th-Cir-August-12-2010.  This also applied where the government has created a Foundation (like a Stiftung) to hold the stolen objects.   Spain bought the tainted Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and tried to pretend that it could not be sued because it was in a foundation.

So you see that U.S. courts have rejected what you believed when we last spoke would be a valid defense.  Putting stolen goods in the Leopold does not shield Austria from liability under these principles.

As you know, we have been very patient based on our respect for the IKG (Jewish Community in Vienna) and their view that Minister Schmied would act with fairness and diligence if permitted the opportunity.

If you need a limited amount of additional time to make a decision, please let me know how much time you need.  If the amount of time is reasonable, we will of course forbear action to permit you to act.

Respectfully yours,

Raymond J. Dowd

Das Verfahren David Bakalar vs. Vavra und Fischer (GERMAN)

von Herbert Gruber

Download this article as PDF

Bakalar vs Fischer und Vavra (german only)

Die Provenienz des verfahrensrelevanten Kunstwerks wurde wie folgt dargelegt:

1.    Jane Kallir:  Catalogue Raisonné 1998

Nr. 1974

Seated Woman with Bent Left Leg (Torso), Sitzende mit angezogenem linken Bein (Torso) Gouache and black crayon. Signed and dated, lower center, (35.1 x 25.5 cm) [sight].

Provenienz:

Provenance: Gutekunst & Klipstein, Bern; Galerie St.Etienne, New York; Norman Granz; Galerie St. Etienne, New York; David Bakalar

Exhibitions:

Bern, 1956, no. 51. ill.; New York, 1957, no. 28, ill.; Boston, 1960, no. 63, ill.

Literature:

Kenyon Review, 1964, facing p. 616

2.    Gutekunst und Klipstein

Lager- und Ausstellungskatalog Nr. 57,

Ausstellung Egon Schiele

8. September bis 6. Oktober 1956

Nr. 51

Sitzende mit angezogenem linkem Bein. Schwarze Kreide u. Tempera. 35,1:25,2 cm. Sehr schöne farbige Zeichnung, Auf glattem Maschinenpapier. Voll signiert und « I917» datiert.

3.   Sotheby´s in London

Am 8.2.2005 wurde bei Sotheby´s in London das  Kunstwerk um GBP 400.000,00 versteigert. Die Provenienz wurde wie folgt dargelegt:

Fritz Grünbaum, Vienna (until 1941)

Elisabeth Grünbaum-Herzl, Vienna (widow of the above; until 1942; thence by descent)

Mathilde Lukcas – Herzl (sister of the above)

Gutekunst & Klipstein, Bern (on consignment from the above by 1956)

Galerie St. Etienne, New York

Norman Granz, New York[1]

Galerie St. Etienne, New York

Acquired from the above by the present owner

Am 10.2.2005 kontaktierte  der Anwalt der Erben nach Fritz Grünbaum, Dr. Gabriel Lansky Sotheby´s London und bezog sich auf eine Information der IKG Wien – Frau Erika Jakubovits – wonach das gegenständliche Werk der Sammlung von Fritz Grünbaum entstammt. Er forderte Sotheby´s auf das Kunstwerk einzufrieren bis zur Klärung der Eigentumsverhältnisse.

Der Käufer des Bildes wurde von Sotheby´s über diese Forderung informiert daraufhin trat er vom Kauf zurück.

Es gab Gespräche mit Repräsentanten von Sotheby´s und es waren weitere Termine vereinbart, als am  21.3.2005 der Besitzer des nunmehr nicht verkauften Bildes, Herr David Bakalar[2], Klage gegen die beiden Erben von Fritz Grünbaum am  United States District Court Southern District of New York zur Zahl 05 Civ. 3037 (WHP) einbrachte.

Die Klage lautete auf Feststellung seiner Eigentümerschaft und Schadenersatz in der Höhe von USD 650.000,–.

Da einer der Erben in New York wohnt, war die Klageerhebung in New York möglich.

Nachdem die Anwälte 7500 Dokumente ausgetauscht hatten, stellte das Gericht am 18.September 2008 die Eigentumsrechte von Herrn David Bakalar am gegenständlichen Bild fest.Die Klage auf Schadenersatz war von Bakalars Anwälten zurückgezogen worden.

Der Einzelrichter Hon. William H. Pauley III erachtete Schweizer Recht für seine Entscheidung maßgeblich, obwohldas Bild dem in Österreich lebenden und in Deutschland  ermordeten Fritz Grünbaum gehörte. Es war in Wien 1938 letztmalig nachweisbar, bevor es 1956 in der Schweiz an Otto Kallir veräußert wurde.

Der Einzelrichter Hon. William H. Pauley III erachtete Schweizer Recht für seine Entscheidung maßgeblich, obwohl

  1. das Bild dem in Österreich lebenden und in Deutschland  ermordeten Fritz Grünbaum gehörte. Es war in Wien 1938 letztmalig nachweisbar, bevor es 1956 in der Schweiz an Otto Kallir veräußert wurde.
  2. das Bild nach 1956 an in den USA durch Otto Kallir zweifach gehandelt und an Herrn David Bakalar verkauft wurde.
  3. Laut Aussage des Schweizer Galeristen Eberhard W. Kornfeld (Gutekunst & Klipstein) kauft er das Bild am 24.4.1956 von Mathilde Lukacs (damals Brüssel) und verkaufte es am 18. September 1956 an Otto Kallir.  Somit befand sich das Bild  knapp 5 Monate in der Schweiz.

Wesentlicher Grund zur Rüge der erstgerichtlichen Entscheidung war der Konflikt der Rechtssysteme von

  • Österreich
  • New York und der
  • Schweiz

sowie die Entscheidung des Gerichtes, ausschließlich Schweizer Recht zu Anwendung zu bringen.

Begründet wurde diese Entscheidung mit dem Umstand, dass der Verkauf des Bildes an den Otto Kallir in der Schweiz stattfand.

Korrekt wäre aber die Berücksichtigung

  • des Österreichischen Rechts für die erbrechtliche Situation nach Fritz Grünbaum
  • des Schweizer Rechts für den Ankauf des Bildes
  • des Rechts des Staates New York[3] für den Ankauf des Bildes durch Otto Kallir und dessen zweimalige Weiterveräußerung an Norman Granz und an David Bakalar.

Zum Stand des zweitinstanzlichen Verfahrens:

Stewart E. Eizenstat[4] und die IKG Wien traten dem zweitinstanzlichen Verfahren als Amicus Curiae[5] auf Seiten der Erben des Fritz Grünbaum bei.

Am 11.03.2009 korrigierte das Appelationsgericht eine Entscheidung der Erstinstanz, wonach eine Rechtsmeinung  der Wiener Anwältin der Grünbaum Erben, Dr. Kathrin Höfer, doch verfahrensrelevant zuzulassen ist.

Am 9.10.2009 fand eine mündliche Tagsatzung statt, in welcher vor allem der Konflikt der verschiedenen Gesetze und deren Konsequenzen diskutiert wurden. Stimmung und Inhalt  der Tagsatzung lassen sich aus nachfolgender Äußerung eines der drei Richter  ersehen:

JUSTICE KORMAN:

…….Perhaps that would be so if, in fact, there was a claim against a Swiss citizen. In other words, I’m not going to be prepared to quarrel if, if, if there was a claim against Kornfeld and  the action, you know, damages of replevin was brought against him, but  right now, no Swiss citizen, no Swiss business is at all implicated and what you have is, under my premise, stolen property being introduced into New York.


Aktuell kann keine Aussage darüber getroffen werden, wann  eine Entscheidung ergehen wird. Die zweite Instanz hat zur zeitlichen Abfolge ihrer Tätigkeit keinerlei Vorgaben.

Zusammenfassung:

Ein Verfahren wie dieses kann nur im Bundesstaat New York geführt werden, der  Verfahrensstand resultiert aus einer gescheiterten bzw. zurückgezogenen Klage auf Schadenersatz und der weiterhin aufrechten Gegenklagen der Erben, entsprechend dem Grundsatz in der US Verfahrensführung „Wer nicht klagt hat schon verloren“.

Das Appellationsgericht hat die Möglichkeit das Verfahren an die Erstinstanz zurück zu verweisen, dies meist mit verfahrensprägenden Verbesserungsaufträgen, oder es kann selbst eine Entscheidung fällen.


[1] Norman Granz (* 6. August 1918 in Los Angeles; † 22. November 2001 in Genf) war ein US-amerikanischer Jazz-Impresario und -produzent.

[2] David Bakalar,  Geboren 1931, Industrieller, Künstler und Kunstsammler, früherer Eigentümer der Firma Transition, der ehemaligen Nummer 2 am Weltmarkt der Transistorenhersteller, dies nach Texas Instruments, Transition hatte zur Hochblüte 10.000 Mitarbeiter. Im Jahre 1980 wurde Transition verkauft. Mit 62 startete David Bakalar eine Karriere als Bildhauer, mit 75 produzierte er seinen ersten Film.

[3] Das Recht des Staates New York kennt  eine Besonderheit,  nämlich dass ein Dieb in der Kette der Besitzer die Kette aller Besitzer bricht und ein gutgläubiger Erwerb nicht mehr erlangt werden kann.

Jedenfalls Mathilde Lukacs hat das Eigentum am Bild niemals rechtmäßig erworben.

[4] US Chefverhandler während der Administration Clinton  in Washington, welche als eines der Resultate das Allgemeine Entschädigungsfondsgesetz hatten

[5] Der Amicus ist v.a. jemand, der wesentliche fachliche Aspekte des Rechtsstreits und möglicher Entscheidungen hervorhebt. Er kann vertiefte Informationen und Sachkenntnis dem entscheidenden Gericht zur Verfügung stellen. Indes braucht er nicht völlig unabhängig zu sein, maßgeblich ist, nicht Partei zu sein. Amicus ist sogar häufig jemand, dessen Interessen indirekt durch den Rechtsstreit und die Entscheidung betroffen sein könnten. Es ist auch statthaft, eine Interessenseite oder einen Teilaspekt zuzuspitzen und pointiert vorzutragen. Gerade im Widerstreit und in der Gewichtung der Argumente erweist er dem Gericht einen „Freundschaftsdienst“. Im angelsächsischen Rechtssystem tritt der Amicus Curiae als eine Art parteiischer Sachverständiger auf, wie z. B. in den USA die Bürgerrechtsorganisation ACLU.