Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeny Jr., the assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, announced that a painting the Nazis stole from a bank vault in Paris in 1941 was returned to its owner.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted “Deux Femmes Dans Un Jardin” in 1919; in 1941 it belonged to Alfred Weinberger, a prominent art collector in prewar Paris. His last remaining heir, Sylvie Sulitzer, saw the painting for the first time when it was unveiled at a ceremony last week at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in lower Manhattan.
“Today, as we celebrate the just return of this painting to its rightful owner, we also remember the uniqueness of the Holocaust and reaffirm our commitment to ensure that the words ‘never forget, never again’ never ring hollow,” the museum’s president and CEO, Michael S. Glickman, said at the ceremony. “Hopefully this event brings some measure of justice to Madame Sylvie Sultizer and her family.
“The Museum of Jewish Heritage is proud to be the venue for this restitution, in furtherance of our mission as a living memorial to the Holocaust. We applaud the tireless efforts of those who worked to see this painting justly restored to Sylvie Sulitzer and the Weinberger family.”
The former district attorney for New York, Robert M. Morgenthau, who also is the museum’s chairman emeritus, said, “All of us who have never forgotten about the Nazi lootings are grateful for United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman’s interest in seeing that the stolen art is returned to its rightful owners.”
During World War II, the Nazis created a division known as the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg in order to “study” Jewish life and culture as part of the Nazis’ propagandist mission against the Jews. The ERR confiscated artworks and other cultural holdings of the enemies of the Reich on a massive scale, and meticulously registered and identified those artworks — even photographing them — thus leaving behind a detailed record of the works that they stole.
In December 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, the ERR seized the Renoir, along with many other works, from a bank vault where Alfred Weinberger had stored his collection when he fled Paris at the outset of the war. In the decades that followed, Mr. Weinberger sought to recover his property, registering his claim to the Renoir with the French restitution authorities in 1947 and with German restitution authorities in 1958.
The Renoir resurfaced at an art sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1975. Then it found its way to London, where it was sold again in 1977, and then appeared at a sale in Zurich in 1999. Eventually the painting ended up in Christie’s in New York, where it was put up for auction by a private collector in 2013. It was then that Ms. Sulitzer learned of a pending sale and made a claim to the work as part of her grandfather’s collection. Christie’s alerted the FBI, and the purported owner of the work voluntarily agreed to relinquish its claim. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI now are returning the painting to Ms. Sulitzer.
The case is being handled by the office’s money laundering and asset forfeiture unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Noah Falk is in charge.