2 works stolen by Nazis during Holocaust returned to family of Jewish art collector Fritz Grünbaum

ByLauren Glassberg and Eyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, January 19, 2024
Two pieces of art stolen during Holocaust from Jewish collector returned
Lauren Glassberg has the story.

LOWER MANHATTAN, New York (WABC) -- Two pieces of art have been returned to the family of Fritz Grünbaum, an Austrian-Jewish cabaret performer whose art collection was stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The works were returned by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office which investigated one of the art world's longest-running Holocaust restitution cases.

Grünbaum possessed hundreds of pieces of artwork, including over 80 works by Egon Schiele.

In 1938, Grünbaum was captured by the Nazis. He was forced to execute a power of attorney while he was imprisoned in favor of his wife, Elisabeth Grünbaum, who was later compelled to hand over his entire art collection to Nazi officials. Both Grünbaums died soon after in concentration camps.

"I am thrilled that two more drawings are now being returned to the relatives of Fritz Grünbaum. The fact that we have been able to return 10 pieces that were looted by the Nazis speaks to the dogged advocacy of his relatives to ensure these beautiful artworks could finally return home. Let us use this moment as an opportunity to honor and preserve the extraordinary legacy of Mr. Grünbaum - a life that we should never forget," said District Attorney Bragg.

The two pieces returned were titled "Portrait of a Man" and "Girl with Black Hair."

"Portrait of a Man" is a pencil on paper drawing from 1917 valued at $1 million and recovered from the Carnegie Musuem of Art.

"Girl With Black Hair" is a watercolor and pencil on paper piece valued at $1.5 million from Oberlin College.

In total, 10 pieces of Nazi-looted art that were stolen from Grünbaum have now been returned, the culmination of more than a quarter century of efforts by his heirs. Grünbaum's descendants have dozens more Scheile works they hope to reclaim.

"This is a victory for justice, and the memory of a brave artist, art collector, and opponent of Fascism. As the heirs of Fritz Grünbaum, we are gratified that this man who fought for what was right in his own time continues to make the world fairer decades after his tragic death. And we are deeply gratified that the Office of the Manhattan District Attorney is pursuing what is right, even when it is not easy. We also express our deep appreciation to the trustees and leadership of Oberlin College and the Carnegie Institute that did the right thing," said Judge Timothy Reif, relative of Fritz Grünbaum.

Family members now plan to auction off the works of art to give the money to underserved artists.

"These pieces, we should remember, were laundered in Switzerland, postwar in the 1950s, and brought to New York, sold out of New York. So, a crime is committed in New York. It is our sworn duty to prosecute it, no matter how hard it is or no matter how long it takes. That's our job," said Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos.

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