Man orphaned by Holocaust searches for buyer of family’s stolen art

New York Post 31 March 2016
By Julia Marsh

David Toren

A blind, 90-year-old son of Holocaust victims is picking up on a failed bid by the storied Monuments Men — the Allied forces team tasked with rescuing Nazi-looted art during World War II — to track down paintings stolen by Hitler and his henchmen.

David Toren, a retired attorney from the Upper East Side, is suing the New York branch of the German auction house Grisebach to learn the identity of buyers who purchased two paintings that ­belonged to his great-uncle.

“Basket Weavers” by Max Liebermann

Grisebach obtained the works from the daughter of Hildebrand Gurlitt, one of Hitler’s principal art dealers, who hoodwinked the Monuments Men squad by telling them his art collection was destroyed in the war, the Manhattan civil suit says.

Grisebach sold the Max Liebermann masterpiece “Basket Weavers” to an unidentified buyer in 2000 for around $160,000, according to court papers.

The auction house also sold a second painting, “Nach House” by Frank Skarbiner, in 1995, the suit says.

A rep for Grisebach declined to comment.

Toren learned that the pieces belonged to his great-uncle, the Breslau-based industrialist David Friedmann, after suing Germany to recover another stolen Liebermann painting.

That piece, “Two Riders on a Beach,” sold for $2.5 million at ­Sotheby’s in London last year. The proceeds went to Toren and other heirs.

(From left) Bill Murray, Sam Epstein, George Clooney and Bob Balaban in “Monuments Men.”Photo: Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures

Toren is suing the auction house for $5 million, his attorney, Martin Bienstock, told The Post.

In the 2014 George Clooney film “Monuments Men,” the team ­uncovers troves of plundered Jewish art in the waning days of the war in Europe.

But Toren’s suit says the real-life Monuments Men missed their mark with Gurlitt, who convinced them he was actually a victim ­because he was one-quarter Jewish.

Toren and his brother grew up orphans after their parents were gassed at the Auschwitz death camp in 1943.

Toren eventually made his way to the United States and, with only $100 in his pocket, put himself through law school, his suit says.
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