NATIONAL NEWS

Artworks believed stolen during Holocaust seized from museums in 3 states

Sep 14, 2023, 12:04 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Three artworks believed stolen during the Holocaust from a Jewish art collector and entertainer have been seized from museums in three different states by New York law enforcement authorities.

The artworks by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele were all previously owned by Fritz Grünbaum, a cabaret performer and songwriter who died at the Dachau concentration camp in 1941.

The art was seized Wednesday from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Warrants issued by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office say there’s reasonable cause to believe the three artworks are stolen property.

The three works and several others from the collection, which Grünbaum began assembling in the 1920s, are already the subject of civil litigation on behalf of his heirs. They believe the entertainer was forced to cede ownership of his artworks under duress.

The son of a Jewish art dealer in what was then Moravia, Grünbaum studied law but began performing in cabarets in Vienna in 1906.

A well-known performer in Vienna and Berlin by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power, Grünbaum challenged the Nazi authorities in his work. He once quipped from a darkened stage, “I can’t see a thing, not a single thing; I must have stumbled into National Socialist culture.”

Grünbaum was arrested and sent to Dachau in 1938. He gave his final performance for fellow inmates on New Year’s Eve 1940 while gravely ill, then died on Jan. 14, 1941.

The three pieces seized by Bragg’s office are: “Russian War Prisoner,” a watercolor and pencil on paper piece valued at $1.25 million, which was seized from the Art Institute; “Portrait of a Man,” a pencil on paper drawing valued at $1 million and seized from the Carnegie Museum of Art; and “Girl With Black Hair,” a watercolor and pencil on paper work valued at $1.5 million and taken from Oberlin.

The Art Institute said in a statement Thursday, “We are confident in our legal acquisition and lawful possession of this work. The piece is the subject of civil litigation in federal court, where this dispute is being properly litigated and where we are also defending our legal ownership.”

The Carnegie Museum said it was committed to “acting in accordance with ethical, legal, and professional requirements and norms” and would cooperate with the authorities.

A request for comment was sent to the Oberlin museum.

Before the warrants were issued Wednesday, the Grünbaum heirs had filed civil claims against the three museums and several other defendants seeking the return of artworks that they say were looted from Grünbaum.

They won a victory in 2018 when a New York judge ruled that two works by Schiele had to be turned over to Grünbaum’s heirs under the Holocaust Expropriated Recovery Act, passed by Congress in 2016.

In that case, the attorney for London art dealer of Richard Nagy said Nagy was the rightful owner of the works because Grünbaum’s sister-in-law, Mathilde Lukacs, had sold them after his death.

But Judge Charles Ramos ruled that there was no evidence that Grünbaum had voluntarily transferred the artworks to Lukacs. “A signature at gunpoint cannot lead to a valid conveyance,” he wrote.

Raymond Dowd, the attorney for the heirs in their civil proceedings, referred questions about the seizure of the three works on Wednesday to the district attorney’s office.

The actions taken by the Bragg’s office follow the seizures of what investigators said were looted antiquities from museums in Cleveland and Worcester, Massachusetts.

Manhattan prosecutors believe they have jurisdiction in all of the cases because the artworks were bought and sold by Manhattan art dealers at some point.

Douglas Cohen, a spokesperson for the district attorney, said he could not comment on the artworks seized except to say that they are part of an ongoing investigation.

National News

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a ...

Associated Press

What to know about Evan Gershkovich’s conviction for espionage in Russia

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich ended Friday with his conviction on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government have dismissed as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Here’s what we know about the secretive process. Where was the trial he ld? It took place in […]

40 minutes ago

Associated Press

Former Trump executive Allen Weisselberg released from jail after serving perjury sentence

NEW YORK (AP) — Retired Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg was released from New York City’s Rikers Island jail on Friday after serving a sentence for lying under oath, according to online records. The former chief financial officer at Donald Trump’s real estate company pleaded guilty in March to committing perjury during his testimony in […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

The Treasury Department warns that an anti-woke Florida banking law is a national security risk

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department is warning that state laws that restrict banks from considering environmental, social and governance factors could harm efforts to address money laundering and terrorism financing. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter sent Thursday to lawmakers. The letter singled out a law signed by Florida Gov. Ron […]

2 hours ago

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a ...

Associated Press

Long before his arrest, US reporter lamented that many friends in Russia were being locked up

In early 2022, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich wrote on social media that “reporting on Russia is now also a regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years.” A year later, he was the one locked up — arrested in March 2023 on charges of spying that his employer and […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Accused of biting police official, NYC Council member says police were the aggressors

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City Council member accused of biting a police official complained Thursday that officers used excessive force as she strove to help someone who was lying under a barricade at a protest. Brooklyn Democrat Susan Zhuang didn’t address the biting allegation as she gave her version of the encounter, […]

2 hours ago

FILE - In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, Aviation Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Nicholas Hawkin...

Associated Press

Massachusetts lawmakers call on the Pentagon to ground the Osprey again until crash causes are fixed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ground the V-22 Osprey aircraft again until the military can identify the root causes of multiple recent accidents, including a deadly crash in Japan. In a letter sent to Austin on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Rep. Richard […]

2 hours ago

Artworks believed stolen during Holocaust seized from museums in 3 states