BERLIN (Reuters) - An 88-year-old U.S. citizen is suing Germany and the state of Bavaria for the return of paintings he says were stolen from his uncle by the Nazis in 1939 and which German authorities uncovered in 2012 among a secret collection of 1,400 art works.
Lawyers for David Toren said Germany authorities knew he was the rightful heir of one particular painting, Max Liebermann’s “Two Riders on the Beach”. By failing to disclose for nearly two years that they had found it, the authorities had “perpetuated the suffering of victims of the Holocaust”.
The suit has been filed with a court in Washington D.C. Bavaria’s Justice Ministry said it had not yet received notification of the case.
“Two Riders on the Beach” was one of the paintings shown to an amazed public by prosecutors in Bavaria last year after they discovered a sensational modern art collection worth $1 billion in a Munich flat during a routine tax investigation.
A magazine article had leaked news of the find and forced them to go public. Tax probes are usually conducted in secret.
The art was found in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive 81-year-old son of a wartime art dealer who, on the orders of Adolf Hitler, bought and sold works of “degenerate art” from museums and Jewish collectors.
A spokesman for Gurlitt has said he does not expect more than five percent of the works to be claimed by those in search of works stolen or extorted by the Nazis, and that the bulk of the collection was legally acquired by his family. Gurlitt has filed a suit for their return.
The art world was stunned by the re-emergence of paintings by some of the 20th century’s most famous artists that were long thought to have been lost or destroyed during World War Two.
The German government’s handling of the find was severely criticized by groups representing owners of art seized by the Nazis. Germany failed to publish a full list of the works until a court ordered it to do so.
Toren, now blind, last saw “Two Riders” at his uncle’s villa in what is today the Polish city of Wroclaw in 1938. He wants it back for his son and grandchildren, his lawyers said.
“Defendants continue to make him wait when there is no dispute that Nazis stole the painting and that David is the lawful heir,” said Toren’s lead attorney, August Matteis.
“He understandably wants to be alive when the painting is returned to his family.”
Toren escaped Nazi Germany at the age of 14 but lost most of his family in the Holocaust.
Reporting by Monica Raymunt; editing by Andrew Roche