Another Stolen Nazi Painting is Sold

Posted on November 13, 2006

A prominent British Communist has sold a painting that was returned to her under Germany's restitution laws. Anita Halpin, who is the chairman of the British Communist party, made £20.5 million when the painting was sold at auction to the Neue Galerie in New York. The painting in question is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's 1913 Berliner Strassenszene (Berlin street scene). Ms. Halpin was entitled to the painting because the Nazis stole it from her wealthy Jewish grandparents, who owned 4,000 German expressionist paintings.

They [the family's lawyers] say that Alfred Hess, his wife and their son Hans, a once wealthy Jewish family who lived in Erfurt, Germany, built up one of the most comprehensive collections of German Expressionist art, consisting of around 4,000 works, including some 80 paintings by the premier artists of the Expressionist period in Germany. "Alfred Hess died in late 1931. Following the rise of Hitler in 1933, the Hess family was eventually forced to leave Germany," they said when the painting was returned to Mrs Halpin.

Mrs Halpin's father, Hans, lost his job at the Ullstein publishing house in Berlin when it fired its Jewish employees, then fled to Paris and later to London. His mother moved to Bavaria where she was questioned by Gestapo agents about the whereabouts of the Hess collection. The lawyers have produced an affidavit signed by Tekla Hess in 1958 in which she stated that she had been coerced under threat by the Gestapo to return seven pictures in the Hess collection from the Swiss gallery where they were being kept to Germany. The collection was broken up and many other works remain lost. In the 1960s Hans Hess was found to be a Nazi persecutee and awarded 75,000 German marks for the loss of the collection - a mere fraction of its worth but the largest amount that could be awarded at that time.

Reports indicate that there are many more paintings which will be returned under the Nazi restitution laws, which is good news for the families whose treasures were looted by the Gestapo. And it appears that many will eventually end up on U.S. soil, which is at least good news for American museum-goers.

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