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Stolen painting returned to heirs

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Antoinette T. Bacon, speaks at a repatriation ceremony for the painting "Winter" Thursday, in Albany. The painting, discovered in the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, was part of a cache of art seized by the Nazis from the Mosse family in Berlin in 1933. (The Associated Press)

ALBANY — A painting looted by Nazi’s in 1933 from a Jewish family has been returned to heirs of the family, represented by the Mosse Foundation, during a virtual re-patrization ceremony on Thursday.

The painting, named “Winter,” was stolen from the Mosse family, who had been fleeing persecution, was returned to heirs of the family after the painting was found at the Arkell Museum and turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in September 2019.

The painting was seized by the FBI as part of the Mosse Art Restitution Project, an organization dedicated to finding and reacquiring the pieces of artwork stolen by Adolf Hitler in 1933.

“Today I am thrilled that we are able to provide a measure of restitution to the Mosse family who suffered a great injustice many years ago,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon.

“Winter,” is by American Impressionist artist Gari Melchers and shows a man and woman walking in winter and was painted in the late 1880s.

The painting was acquired by Rudolf Mosse from the Great Berlin Art Exhibition in 1900 and became a part of a vast art collection owned by the Mosse family.

Mosse, his daughter, Felicia Hans-Lachmann, and her husband, Hans Lachmann-Mosse, operated a well-known and a successful publishing company in Berlin, called the Berliner Tageblatt in the early 20th Century.

“Over 120 years ago, the Mosse family was one of the most prominent and well-off families in Berlin. Rudulf had built a print media and advertising empire,” said Roger Strauch, president of the Mosse Foundation, and stepgreat-grandson of Rudolf Mosse. “He owned the Berliner Tageblatt, which we can think of as the New York Times of Germany. It was the country’s leading progressive voice. The paper was outspoken in its criticism of the rise of the Nazi movement.”

Bacon said when faced with eminent persecution, the Mosses fled Germany, leaving behind all of their property including an extensive art collection.

The Nazi’s then confiscated all the Mosse family property including the portrait.

Members of the Mosse family made their way here to America and coincidentally so did “Winter”, she said.

“Only a couple months after Hitler assumed power in Germany in 1933, [Joseph] Goebbels and [Hermann] Goring were intimately involved in orchestrating the looting and monetizing this family’s assets,” Strauch said.

The painting was then purchased by museum co-founder Bartlett Arkell in 1934 from a New York City art gallery.

Once they were notified the painting had been stolen by Nazi’s many years ago The Arkell Museum, turned it over to the FBI.

“The injustices of the Holocaust are beyond comprehension. No one can restore the lives, the families and the communities that the Nazi’s destroyed,” Bacon said. “There is just no such thing as just compensation for the survivors of the Holocaust. The Mosse family lost nearly everything because they were [Jewish] but they did not lose hope and neither did the Department of Justice.”

The FBI has a program to find and return stolen arts and cultural property.

“We are delighted today to return “Winter” to its rightful owners,” Bacon said. “This certainly does not take away the pain that the Mosses endured. It should also serve as a reminder of the crime victims that the Department of Justice is committed to doing it’s very best to secure restitution no matter how long that might take.”

Suzan D. Friedlander, executive director and chief curator of the Arkell Museum, said in October 2019, museum officials were “upset” to learn that one of its art pieces had been stolen before becoming a part of its collection, but they were happy to make things “right.”

“I think it’s truly remarkable to be standing here today to discuss the FBI involvement in this inspiring international effort to locate and return this stolen art work, stolen during that evil period…,” said Peter Magnetto, FBI assistant special agent in charge. “I think it’s unbelievable to look at the hard work, strong efforts and tireless dedication the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office to recover this artwork and to right a wrong that occurred so many years ago.”

The FBI believes hundreds of thousands of pieces of art were stolen by the Nazi’s during that period.

Strauch said more than 1,000 objects have been identified as Mosse-looted art and artifacts on the Internet under the site lostart.pe.

“This project, for which I’m responsible, commenced in 2011. We have successfully completed three dozen restitutions, recovering over 50 Mosse art items and artifacts,” Strauch said.

Most of the art work and artifacts have been sold in auction. The total value of these transactions have been in the millions. The painting “Winter” will also most likely be sold in auction as well. They currently have eight ongoing restitutions in Poland, Sweden, Germany, Israel and the U.S.

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