Auction of Anguish: Austrian Jews' Plundered Art Finds Rightful Place, Rich Price

By Gruber, Ruth Ellen | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 4, 1996 | Go to article overview

Auction of Anguish: Austrian Jews' Plundered Art Finds Rightful Place, Rich Price


Gruber, Ruth Ellen, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


VIENNA, Austria - An emotion-charged two-day auction of 8,000 artworks and other objects plundered by the Nazis from Austrian Jews raised more than $14.5 million for Austrian Holocaust survivors and their heirs, four times the pre-sale estimate.

The sale, carried out by Christie's for two days last week on behalf of the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities, was considered a landmark in the restitution of Jewish property as well as a dramatic evocation of the world destroyed by the Holocaust.

"The whole matter speaks for itself," said Robert Liska, vice president of the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities. "We are very happy that such an amount of money was realized. But above that, what was important to us was to show people in a public, poignant, penetrating way what happened to people just like them. Especially here in Vienna, the objects on sale would have been owned by people just like you and me.

"This sale did things that pictures of concentration camps and the war won't do," he said.

Paul Grosz, president of the Federation of Austrian Jewish Communities, said the sale was highly important in relation to other ongoing efforts to recover stolen Jewish property.

"The eyes of the world are focused on this sale, and [the] result brings forth something positive to honor those who perished between 1938 and 1945," he said. "It also marks a very significant step in the wider issue of restitution, and we hope the momentum to address this is taken up elsewhere."

Since the fall of communism, the Jewish world has put pressure on the governments of former communist states to restore Jewish property that was seized by the Nazis and the communists. Legislation has been passed or is pending on this in several countries.

Several investigations are currently under way regarding collaboration between Switzerland and the Nazis, including the possible mishandling of Swiss bank accounts left ownerless by murdered Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution.

Switzerland is also accused of having arranged secret postwar deals with Poland and other then-communist countries to use Holocaust victims' assets to pay off claims from Swiss citizens whose property was seized by the communists.

The objects auctioned off included old master and 19th-century paintings and drawings, furniture, carpets, books, tapestries, coins and other objects looted by the Nazis from the walls, shelves, mantelpieces, salons and dining rooms of Austrian Jews between the German annexation of Austria in 1938 and the end of World War II in 1945.

Unclaimed after the war because the people they had been stolen from had either been killed or had fled Austria, the collection had remained stashed away for decades by the Austrian government in the Mauerbach monastery near Vienna.

The Austrians minimized the worth of the collection, and little was done to find heirs. …

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