Germany Hands Netherlands 8 Old Masters Bought in World War II

Bloomberg 30 June 2011
By Catherine Hickley

The German government said it will hand over to the Netherlands eight Old Masters that belonged to Dutch Jews before the Nazi occupation and were later seized from their East German owner by the communist regime.

The paintings were acquired by Alfred Kummerle, the owner of a yarn-spinning mill in the east German city of Brandenburg, from the Netherlands between 1940 and 1944. When Kummerle died in 1949, his wife inherited his collection. She fled East Germany in 1953 and her possessions were seized by the communist regime, becoming “property of the people.”

The Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues told Bloomberg News by e-mail that 32 Old Masters from Kummerle’s collection are currently in the Leipzig Museum fuer Bildende Kuenste. The eight to be returned to the Dutch government include oils by the 17th-century masters Jan Steen and Philips Wouwerman that were once owned by the Jewish dealers Jacques Goudstikker and Nathan Katz.

“Provenance research on the remaining works has not yet been completed,” the office said. “This partial decision affects eight paintings bought in the Netherlands that were formerly in Jewish ownership.”

It’s a case that illustrates how complex restitution questions can be, given the tortuous route many artworks took before and after World War II. The Federal Office for Central Services had to weigh claims from not only the Dutch government and the Kummerle heirs, but also from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

The Dutch government in 2001 established a restitution panel to advise it on Holocaust-related claims for artworks in the national collection. In 2006, the Dutch government returned 202 works from the national collection to Goudstikker’s heir.

Death at Sea

Goudstikker escaped Amsterdam in 1940 with his wife and son and died at sea. Katz was forced to liquidate his company to prevent it from falling into the Nazis’ hands.

The Dutch government first requested the return of the Kummerle paintings in 1945. Though the East German authorities rebuffed the claim, the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues said the claim remained valid after German unification in 1990.

The office said it rejected the claim from the Claims Conference because the loss took place in the Netherlands. Under German law, the Claims Conference has a legal remit to recover property confiscated from Jews before World War II in eastern Germany in cases where no heirs have stepped forward to stake a claim. That doesn’t extend to involuntary losses in the Netherlands, the office said.

The Kummerle heirs are entitled to financial compensation for their loss, the office said.

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