Nazi-looted Rembrandt handed back 65 years later

Reuters, 30 November 2004
Jeremy Lovell

LONDON, (Reuters) - A drawing attributed to Rembrandt and looted by the Nazis in 1939 has been handed back in an unprecedented voluntary gesture, an organisation hunting stolen art said on Tuesday.

"The Liberation of Saint Peter From Prison" was posted in a plain envelope to the Commission For Looted Art in Europe along with a description of how it happened to be in the hands of the anonymous current American owner who offered it without charge.

It will be returned to Uri Peled in Israel, one of the descendants of the original owners.

"This is a unique situation because the person who had the drawing voluntarily returned it," said Anne Webber, co-chair of the non-profit organisation, from its London headquarters.

The drawing was one of 700 belonging to Arthur Feldmann that were looted by the Nazis from his family home in Brno in March 1939 as Adolf Hitler's German armies marched into Czechoslovakia at the start of World War Two.

Feldmann and his wife, who were evicted, imprisoned and tortured, both died during the war, leaving their children and grandchildren to search for their missing heirlooms.

"The drawing has relatively little financial value but it does have tremendous sentimental value. It was taken in such traumatic circumstances," Webber told Reuters.

She said 135 of the missing works had been found last year at the Moravska gallery in Brno, and another four at the British Museum -- for which negotiations on their return were under way.

Webber said her organisation represented 150 families still seeking art works looted by the Nazis, and that it was an uphill struggle not only finding and identifying the works but also getting them back.

"The attitude varies from country to country and situation to situation. Some are very helpful, others are not. Recently we went to court to seize a painting. Remember these works have been missing for 65 years," she said.

Earlier this month the British government ordered Glasgow's Burrell Collection to return a painting to the descendents of German Jews from whom it was stolen in 1936.

It was the first time the government had ordered the return of Nazi-plundered art.

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