September 25, 2023

More than a dozen heirs to a Jewish couple who left Germany when Hitler came to power have filed a lawsuit in Georgia to recover a Pissarro painting that was allegedly part of an extensive collection of works confiscated by Nazis.

The painting “Die Anse des Pilotes, Le Havre”, an oil on canvas depicting a harbor scene, was one of the works by Margaret and Ludwig Kainer, which the Nazis took after they left Germany after the complaint filed in the federal district on Monday Court in Atlanta.

Dating from 1903, the year of Pissarro’s death, the painting is valued at approximately $ 500,000 to $ 1 million. It is believed to be now owned by the Horowitz Family Foundation in Atlanta or by members of the Horowitz Family Foundation, according to the lawsuit citing the foundation and members of the family as respondents: Gerald D. Horowitz; his wife Pearlann Horowitz; and her son Scott Horowitz.

“The Nazis confiscated or misused hundreds of thousands of works of art as part of their genocide campaign against the Jewish people,” the lawsuit said. “The story continues to this day, and the Kainer heirs continue to try to locate and demand their works of art.” legal property. “

Joseph A. Patella, an attorney speaking on behalf of the Horowitzes, said they had no comment on the litigation. The lawsuit states that the Horowitzers previously denied that the Kainer heirs were “the legal owners” of the Pissarro.

Many Jewish families lost valuable works of art before and during World War II. However, the case of the Kainer heirs shows how difficult it is to find out what became of looted works of art and who exactly has the right to reclaim them, especially when there are competing claims.

The Kainer heirs – the granddaughter of Ludwig Kainer, his great-grandchildren, and descendants of Margaret Kainer’s first cousins ​​- faced an additional unusual circumstance when trying to regain works. For decades, a Swiss foundation has presented itself as the “heir” of the Kainers and has collected income from the sale of some works of art that belonged to the Kainers, as well as war repairs by the federal government.

The foundation seems to have its roots in Weimar. Margaret Kainer’s father, Norbert Levy, had established a family foundation in his name in 1927, according to court records on a separate case, and appointed at least one member of the two-person board of trustees as director of the Swiss bank Corporation, which merged with another bank in 1998, to form global banking giant UBS.

The Kainer received money from the foundation during World War II, but it was legally ended with the death of Margaret Kainer in 1968, the Kainer heirs claim. Documents show that a director of the Swiss bank advocated the revival of the foundation in 1970 to act as the legal successor of the Kainers and to contribute to the upbringing of children, preferably “Jewish heritage from pre-war Germany”.

This foundation, named after Norbert Levy, was the subject of another lawsuit that the Kainer heirs filed with the State Supreme Court in New York in 2013, which the foundation described as “fraud” in order to cheat them of their inheritance. UBS lawyers said in court files years ago that the company had no relationship with the foundation. The foundation has claimed that, under the will of Norbert Levy, it has a legal right to the assets it has collected.

In 2017, a judge dismissed the lawsuit against the Foundation and UBS, stating that the New York court system was not the right forum for the heirs’ claims, and an appeals court upheld the decision. The heirs’ attorneys are now challenging these decisions in the state appeals court, arguing that the case should be settled in New York.

It is not clear whether the existence of the Swiss foundation could further complicate the dispute over the Pissarro. An attorney who has represented the foundation in the New York litigation did not respond to an email message asking if the foundation intended to pursue ownership of the Pissarro painting.

According to the lawsuit filed in Atlanta this week, Margaret and Ludwig Kainer traveled to Switzerland for medical care in 1932 but never returned to their homeland in Germany. Troubled by the persecution of Jews, they moved to France instead. In the meantime, according to the lawsuit, the Nazis sold the stolen Pissarro at auction in 1935.

Eventually, the Kainers registered the work as looted with the French Ministry of Reparation and Reparation, plaintiffs said, adding that information about the painting, along with a photo of it, was included in a register of property that was looted in France and elsewhere during the year became war.

The path of the painting in the 60 years after the auction in Germany is uncertain. In 1995, according to the lawsuit, Gerald D. Horowitz bought the painting from Achim Moeller Fine Art in New York.

“I can say that my gallery took care and diligence in the origin of works of art at the time and has done so ever since,” Moeller wrote in an email to the New York Times and added in a second message: “Me would never have knowingly sold a work of art that had been stolen in Germany during that time. “

He also presented a 1994 report by the International Foundation for Art Research on a 1903 oil on canvas by Pissarro depicting a harbor scene billed to Gerald Horowitz. This report states that the work “has not been reported as stolen in our database”. But it added that “not every theft is necessarily reported to us”.

In a catalog raisonné by Pissarro from 2005, the work was listed as looted by L. Kainer during the Second World War.

In late 2014 and early 2015, the work was then exhibited for almost three months in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. This alerted researchers at Mondex Corporation, an art restoration company that represented the Kainer heirs, that the painting still existed.

People who worked with Mondex sent letters inquiring about the painting to the museum and the Horowitz family. The heirs’ lawyers later sent letters to family members and the Horowitz Foundation demanding the return of “The Anse des Pilotes, Le Havre”.

The lawsuit added that attorneys for the Horowitzes denied the request to hand over the work, denying that the heirs had a right to it.

The exact position of the painting remains a mystery to the heirs.

The lawsuit stated that representatives of the Kainer family spoke briefly with Scott Horowitz in the summer of 2015.

“Mr. Horowitz did not want to confirm whether his father still owned the painting,” says the lawsuit, “and refused to disclose his whereabouts.”