OUTRAGEOUS: Dutch Court Refuses To Return Painting To Jewish Heirs

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"Painting with Houses" ("Bild mit Häusern"), a 1909 painting by Wassily Kandinsky. (Wikimedia Commons/PD-old-75)

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A Dutch court on Wednesday rejected a restitution case brought by heirs of a Jewish family that originally owned a painting by Wassily Kandinsky that was bought by the city of Amsterdam at an auction in 1940.

Amsterdam District Court upheld a 2018 ruling by the Netherlands’ restitution committee that the artwork titled “Painting With Houses,” which is the collection of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, does not have to be returned to the family.

James Palmer, who represents the heirs, called the decision unacceptable. Lawyers for the heirs said they will appeal.

The painting was owned by Robert Lewenstein, who fled the Netherlands following the Nazi invasion in 1940. Months later, the painting was “sold” to the museum.

“Immediately after the invasion, the Germans started looting art. Pressure and coercion and the justified fear that lived among the Jews were used,” attorney Simon van der Sluijs said last month, according to The Guardian. 

“That fear did not pass by the Lewenstein family. The Nazis marched past their offices on Dam Square. To label the auction of works of art belonging to the Lewenstein family as voluntary is bizarre.”

The 2018 ruling said that the sale of the painting “was caused to an extent by the deteriorating financial circumstances” of the original owners before the Nazis invaded, a claim that the heirs’ lawyers dispute.

“The Lewenstein family’s financial situation was no reason to sell the painting,” said Axel Hagedorn, another of the heirs’ lawyers. “In September 1940 there was a positive balance of 110,000 guilders. Robert Lewenstein, with an income of more than 5,200 guilders a year, was one of the 5% of taxpayers with the highest incomes.”

Hagedorn added that the painting was sold for only 160 guilders, and there was no documentation that the sum was ever paid.

“If this court decision is left unchallenged then Dutch restitution policy will effectively be non-existent, and important looted art in The Netherlands will likely never be restituted,” he said.

“After many years of struggles, the Lewenstein family is very disappointed that the Amsterdam District Court did not recognize the Lewenstein family’s rights to the restitution of its property, which was misappropriated during the Holocaust,” defense lawyers said in a statement.

The claimants also said that four out of the seven members of the restitutions committee have a conflict of interest since they belong to business clubs of the Stedelijk Museum or work at an office that sponsors the museum.

The court rejected the arguments.

In a written response, the City of Amsterdam, which owns the Stedelijk, said the court had ruled that the 2018 restitution committee decision “is not unacceptable by standards or reasonableness and fairness and therefore should not be set aside.”

“We are well aware that this is disappointing for the claimants,” the municipality added. “This painting will forever be linked to a painful history. The relationship of our collection with the Second World War will always be important, we will continue to show information about this to the public, online and also in the gallery.”


6 COMMENTS

  1. “This painting will forever be linked to a painful history. The relationship of our collection with the Second World War will always be important…”

    So they admit that the painting was sold under circumstances connected with a “painful history” relating to WWII, yet in court they argue it was a pawn sale due to purported financial hardship prior to the war. Well, which is it?

  2. People keep thinking that the Dutch are so good for the Jews and saved scores of them. This is a myth. Sure there were non-Jewish Dutch heroes, but not nearly as many as they want people to believe. The way they collaborated with the Nazis trying to return to normal life was astounding. 67% of all Jews in the Netherlands were murdered. This is the highest percentage in Western-Europe. The Belgian King at least stayed. They were able to save many more. This court ruling is clearly again a sign to Dutch Jews to leave as soon as possible (many are actually leaving or left already).

  3. levi365248 please dont change history the dutch worked very hard to save as many jewish lives as they possibly could, and to a certain extent they suceeded, yet with alot of european countries who helped us during the war, their young ones are very different, such as when denmark tried to ban bris milah. but just becouse of how they act now cant chage their good deeds of the past.Please let this serve as a lesson to you

  4. No one is immune even today in this galus we are in. Jewish owned entities before the Holocaust were being targeted only because they were Jewish. Unfortunately, Jewish owned entities are being targeted today as well only for being Jewish. We need Rachmei Schmayim!!

  5. Yidden wake up. This is just one example of Jews being singled out during the Holocaust. We are in times of turmoil now as well. Only this week an entire Jewish run office in Williamsburg was replaced with hoodlums under the guidance of an antisemitic investigator of the Dept of Labor. She ran a campaign of terror and antisemitism to oust the Jews. Unfortunately, these days it can happen and it did!! Wake up!! It happened pre-world war ll when Jewish businesses were confiscated and it is happening now in the United States.